Social Pioneers Roundtable | Goodyear’s Approach to Social Sustainability | Interview

As PRé has initiated the Social Pioneers Roundtable, a roundtable on social metrics together with peers from different industries, we profile the pioneers that joined this endeavour. This time we spoke to Dennis McGavis, director of global EHS Sustainability at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

March 2013 – We talked with Dennis McGavis, director of Global EHS Sustainability, who told us about the tire company’s sustainable practices, and his expectations for the Social Pioneers Roundtable. A recent hire at Goodyear, McGavis is a true pioneer in the LCA field. He began working with sustainability in the early 1980s while at the U.S. Postal Service. Over the past three decades he has invented, defined and integrated the phrase “product stewardship” across the global economy and assisted in launching the Energy StarSM program in the United States.

The Challenge: Goodyear’s Sustainability: Solid with Room to Grow

“We know tires,” McGavis told us from his office in Akron, Ohio. And when it comes to sustainability, McGavis believes Goodyear has quite a strong track record. “We’re strong when it comes to three key market drivers: customers, competitors, and regulators,” he said. Yet the former systems engineer still sees opportunities. “In the past, two other market drivers, policy makers who influence purchasing criteria for the government, and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, who are involved in societal concerns, were not as influential as they are today.”

McGavis would like to focus on these areas and also Goodyear’s sustainability practices around the world. With factories in 22 countries and shipments that head to more than 200, “we need to make sure we’re engaging with key groups in communities where we operate and sell tires,” he said, “whether it’s a local commerce group or another community-focused group.” McGavis explained that Goodyear already works to identify local needs and engage with communities, but more opportunities may exist. “It’s a big job, from a magnitude perspective,” he said. “And that’s my role, to figure that out.”

As an industry, tire manufacturers have historically been involved with some social concerns. To that end many have developed a code of conduct, for themselves and their suppliers.

Yet McGavis, a pioneer in the LCA movement who helped oversee the quantification of environmental impacts, understands that measurability may involve social aspects as well. “When it comes to social sustainability, what we haven’t seen yet are the metrics,” he said. “There just aren’t any standard metrics for social concerns yet.”

The Approach: Working Together to Improve Social Sustainability

“Everybody looks at social accountability a little differently,” McGavis said of his decision to join the Social Pioneers Roundtable. And he hopes that by combining those different perspectives and ideas, a consensus can be reached. “At this metrics roundtable, we’re hoping to achieve discussion on all aspects of social sustainability, from framework and guidelines, to group performance, transparency in reporting, and more.” In particular, he believes, “We’re looking forward to building a broader sustainability framework, not only the what, but also the how. What is the marketplace expecting of us? What has changed in the marketplace? You don’t want to miss the nuances.”

In particular, McGavis sees trends toward regulators being more willing to collaborate, saying, “They have the hammer, but they also are willing to work together more, rather than regulate everything.” McGavis believes this is, in part, because technology moves so quickly that by the time regulations are passed, a process that can take up to two to three years, the processes are already outdated. “Technology is the new ally of the regulator.” Another “megatrend” is what McGavis calls indigenization: the act of people wanting to buy products made in their country or region.

All these factors and more need to be taken into account when discussing social sustainability.

“We have to look at: what is the value proposition, how do we present ourselves to the market in a way that’s also aligned with our mission, where we do care for the environment, our customers, and our communities,” McGavis said.
Because of course there needs to be a balance. The Social Pioneers Roundtable must discuss, “how does this enhance our performance in terms of caring for our environment and community, and also in helping us with our goals, building long-lasting partnerships, and attracting and retaining the best talent,” as all of these factors contribute to the success of social sustainability.

The Solutions: Working with PRé Toward a Better, More Sustainable Tomorrow

Working with PRé made sense to McGavis, in part because of SimaPro’s ease of use, as well as PRé groundbreaking social sustainability and LCA work. But it was PRé’s ability to adapt LCA thinking into all aspects of business life that was most attractive to the Goodyear executive. “I’d like to focus on the strategic sustainability perspective,” including such topics as, “how do you integrate LCA thinking into your organization.” He continued, “Companies can be very manufacturing focused, and from my experience PRé does a great job of being nimble and being in touch with how businesses operate.”

And it is this kind of thinking that should make the Social Pioneers Roundtable a success as well.

“It’s all about embodiment.” McGavis said. “We have to think about embodiment in the same way that we think about life cycle assessment — find out what that looks like at the end of the day. If you have a single metric, it doesn’t make a judgment on whether it is good or bad, it is what it is. Then you dig deeper, you look at all aspects of the life cycle.

“It’s a way of looking in the mirror. There are a lot of variables, and every one has an opinion.” By working together at the Social Pioneers Roundtable, McGavis is optimistic that success will follow in a sustainable, measurable, and widely adopted fashion.

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