At the University of North Carolina Charlotte’s (UNCC) 2019 Barnhardt Seminar on Ethics and the World of Business, Ruth Shaw, Southwire Board of Directors member and former President and CEO of Duke Power Company, shared how Southwire turned an environmental challenge into a longstanding commitment to sustainability.
In February, business professionals, community leaders and UNCC faculty, staff and students gathered at the UNCC Center City in North Carolina for the annual event. This year’s theme highlighted environmental consequences specifically related to private firms and public responsibility and featured Shaw as the event’s guest speaker.
Shaw’s presentation began by introducing a company that went through an environmental challenge nearly two decades ago involving community and employee concerns about past industrial air emissions. She gave audience members the facts of the situation, walked through how it impacted the community and company’s reputation and asked attendees to choose between two methods to handle the situation: do less; say less or do more, and share it all.
“After a long career of serving as an executive or a corporate board member for many companies with significant environmental footprints, I thought I would set the stage tonight with a situation which confronted a family-owned business on whose board I have served for over a decade,” said Shaw in her remarks.
After attendees discussed their options and the best course of action, Shaw revealed who the company was and how the situation was handled.
“You may have surmised by now that the company was Southwire, founded in Carroll County, Georgia in 1950 by Roy Richards, Sr.,” said Shaw. “After lengthy internal debate and many community discussions, the company put forward a fully transparent plan in 2007 to directly assess any potential impact by conducting a study of current and past employees that worked in the areas of highest potential impact. Importantly, the decision on this matter was an inflection point in Southwire’s journey to becoming a company with a strong commitment to sustainability in its values and business practices. It is a part of that foundation of behaviors that make the code of business conduct real.”
The conclusion of the study showed that Southwire participants had chemical levels similar to the general population, and much lower than other study groups with known exposure. Though the conclusion was ultimately a positive one, Southwire’s leadership took the risk with no idea of the outcome.
“We take our commitment to sustainability very seriously, and we strive to be actively engaged in our communities,” said Rich Stinson, Southwire’s President and CEO. “By sharing our journey, we hope to encourage others to be ethical and environmental stewards. The support of our board of directors is proof that this commitment spans throughout our entire company. Ruth is an incredible speaker, and she did a great job telling our story.”
Today, Southwire remains committed to sustainable solutions and practices, which are built around five core tenets – Growing Green, Living Well, Giving Back, Doing Right and Building Worth. With its annual Sustainability Report, the company maintains transparency and conducts business in ways that value nature and natural resources, people and communities, while continuing financial success.