, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last week I was at Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis to moderate a live webinar with its CSR and sustainability executives. Joining me: Mary Capozzi, senior director of CSR, Leo Raudys, senior director of environmental sustainability and services compliance, and Hamlin Metzger, senior manager of corporate responsibility.

The agenda: To discuss Best Buy’s annual Sustainability Report and offer a live audience on Livestream and Twitter the opportunity to ask questions in real-time.

My job: To question, dig and examine, while moderating questions between the panel and the audience. About 20 minutes into the webinar, which is archived below — well worth a listen whether you are a sustainability nut, a tree hugger, a nonprofit exec, a job seeker or simply an electronics user — questions started streaming in.

From conflict minerals to employee education, every question was fair game.  While @Gchesman asked whether being a well-known company affects the level and degree of time and money spent on CSR and sustainability, @Davidcoethica wanted to know how Best Buy can better balance its role as a promoter of consumption of products against a sustainability ethos, and Robin Cangie wondered how Best Buy can help us all become more responsible consumers?

The conversation, thanks in part to an active and engaged audience, and wonderfully diverse questions, was invigorating, informative and challenging.

Barring the repeated mentions of their recycling efforts — sorry Leo, its a pet peeve — which to be fair is a huge and important undertaking for the global electronics retailer, the panelists were clear, comprehensive in their responses and unapologetically honest about their challenges: That there is a ton of work ahead and that they hadn’t figured it all out yet.

But as David Connor wrote earlier this week, when you’re a global player like Best Buy, expectations are higher as well. Did Best Buy live up to the expectations of CSR activists? Perhaps not.

Flip the coin though for a second.

Did they go on the defensive when I asked them why their retention rates were remarkable (74%) but the diversity of their recruits (12% African-American, 14% Hispanic; 180,000 employees) was quite underwhelming? No.

Did they dodge repeated questions about educating their supply chain, influencing consumer decisions, or the recently drafted UN Guiding Principals on Human Rights? No.

Bottom-line: Capozzi and team did not have all the answers but they didn’t pretend to either.

And that’s where, as an independent journalist, they get points from me for an attempt, however small, at open transparency, willingness to be accountable, and daring to do something new.

Remember the 11 Challenges for Corporate Sustainability? Well, a significant number of those relate to fear. For the Best Buy team, this webinar was a successful exercise in effectively addressing their own fears.

And that is where they just won one for their team of blue shirts.