Celebrating company champions: LoyaltyOne's Debbie Baxter

As Chief Sustainability Officer at LoyaltyOne, which operates the AIR MILES Reward Program, Debbie Baxter is responsible for leading the company’s formal corporate sustainability program. She spearheads a range of initiatives, from LoyaltyOne’s recently built double gold LEED-certified call center, to its fleet of smart cars for employees, to its multi-faceted relationship with WWF, which includes participation in the Living Planet @ Work employee engagement program. According to Debbie, businesses are starting to realize that the concept of a social license to operate is important. She believes we are, as a society, increasing our expectations of corporations and how they must behave in the communities in which they do business. Read on for excerpts from our interview with Debbie.
baxter8 © LoyaltyOne
“When people first started talking to me about climate change years ago, and the funny weather patterns that were happening around the world,to be honest, I approached it initially from a skeptic’s point of view, but I was open to being convinced. I applied for the opportunity to go and be trained by [former US Vice President and Nobel laureate] Al Gore and was one of the fortunate Canadians who was selected. There was quite a contingent of us from Bay Street, and I think that was deliberate: They wanted business people to be the spokespeople. It was an opportunity to learn and to see the world through a different lens, and I left completely convinced that climate change was the single biggest threat of my lifetime and the one we need to resolve most quickly. Shortly after that, I became Chief Operating Officer at a small start-up, Green Rewards, an environmentally focused loyalty program. A few months later, LoyaltyOne acquired that company because our President, Bryan Pearson, had the vision of making something bigger that would create a positive environmental impact in the lives of Canadians.
“We’re focusing on waste this year and making sure that we’re doing the best job we can in that area. One of the newest initiatives we’ve implemented is a four-channel waste management system. There’s the typical recycling bucket for cans, bottles and paper – single-stream recycling. Then we have an organics channel and the waste stream. The fourth channel is for biodegradables. We have a subsidized cafeteria for our staff, and all the plates and cutlery are biodegradable. Actually, at our head office, there’s also a fifth element to the waste program. Even though every associate is issued a reusable coffee cup when they join the organization, we see that some people still go outside to Tim Horton’s or to Starbucks, probably for the social element. Well, we want to accommodate those people as well, so we have a separate recycling system for those cups to be captured. That’s very much a part of our culture — providing a solution for everybody.
“The biggest thing we’ve learned about employee engagement is making it fun, and making it tangible. We’ve also learned that tying a sustainability initiative to business results is really important. LoyaltyOne is a data company: We are very focused on surveying and collecting data, understanding our collectors and understanding their retail shopping patterns on an aggregate level, it’s just a big part of our culture. I’m fortunate to have an engaged population of employees that I’m speaking to, but I find that they get even more engaged when we say, “There’s an opportunity for you to participate in this program. And oh, by the way, it’s going to save this much money.” Or, “It’s got this much of a payback.”
“The AIR MILES Reward Program is rewarding consumption, but it’s kind of necessary consumption. The majority of our cardholders earn their miles by doing their everyday shopping for products and services in almost every retail category. So it seemed like a natural fit for us to say, “How can we help Canadians green their life?” On a regular basis, we are speaking to 70 per cent of Canada as members of our program. We recognized that with that opportunity came a responsibility to help people to move in the right direction. So we started the My Planet program by offering people a chance to earn more miles when they buy eco-friendly products at many of our Sponsors, redeem their miles for green products and by offering educational information on our website on what “green living” might look like.
“I think the Living Planet @ Work program is ideal for a company that’s looking to start an employee engagement program. It’s almost like “sustainability in a box” – a very easy-to-implement, very straightforward process for engaging with your employees, and creating a calendar and communications.
“There’s a line on LoyaltyOne’s website: “We want green to be mainstream.” It drills back to the idea of climate change as the crisis of our lifetime. For us to effect the solutions that are going to resolve that crisis the concepts of sustainability and of managing waste and emissions need to become the core of everything we do. And I think that’s happening. I think this green trend we’re in the middle of is going to be like the internet. Originally, the internet was rare and novel, it was a very specific tool, and you had people who were internet specialists. Now you get wireless for free at Starbucks. I think green needs to be that ubiquitous, it needs to become a part of everything that we do, and that will enable us to resolve the issues we’re facing.”