Chantal Contijoch of Slalom On Sustainability Strategies to Boost Business & Manage Personal Footprint
Play Outside — Our planet has a lot to offer, and enjoying that beauty gives us a greater appreciation for our world, and thus, we take care of it. The hobbies our family pursues are those you can do outside, such as hiking, skiing, swimming, and playing tennis.
As part of our series about how companies are becoming more sustainable, we had the pleasure of interviewing Chantal Contijoch.
Chantal Contijoch is a leading authority and experienced strategic leader with a focus on environment, social, and governance (ESG), who uses sustainability and business strategy to help customers assess ESG risks. She joined Slalom in 2017 and is one of the founding members of the consulting firm’s global ESG team. By providing solutions that fuel innovation among people and businesses, accelerate growth and drive transformation; she helps to create thriving businesses that drive the measurable and systemic change needed to save our planet and positively impact communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sustainability has been at the top of my mind ever since I can remember — both of my parents devoted their life’s work to this field. I started my career working in the renewable energy industry as an environmental and quality analyst during the construction of one of the most extensive concentrated solar power facilities in the U.S. — the Mojave Solar Plant. I quickly realized that to make the most significant impact, I had to be in the position to influence and make business decisions. This led me to business school and then to the consulting industry.
I joined Slalom in 2017 in the Washington D.C. office as part of the strategy and operations practice. Although I loved working as a business strategist, I wanted my work to have a direct positive impact on our planet and communities. So, I sought my true passion. What started as an “after-hours” passion project, leading various efforts in our sustainability community practice, allowed me the opportunity to become one of the founding members of our global Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) team.
Our global team launched with the purpose of creating thriving businesses that drive the measurable and systemic change needed to save our planet and positively impact communities and societies worldwide. We partner with customers as they set bold goals and embark on transformational change in ESG. Specifically, we help companies track impact, develop sustainable products and services, and mitigate ESG risk by driving governance and accountability.
As part of Slalom’s global ESG team, I lead the ESG strategy delivery and impact tracking offering. This work has allowed me to merge my two passions — sustainability and business strategy, through helping customers assess ESG risks, develop strategy, implement initiatives, and track and report impact. Our work positively impacts our customers, communities, and the environment.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Slalom helps people and businesses fuel innovation, accelerate growth, and drive transformation. Over the past several years we’ve increased our international presence, but we maintain a philosophy of providing “local soul with global scale”, which means we focus on building local connections with customers versus creating a big centralized system.
As we continue to grow together with purpose, we have an even bigger responsibility and opportunity to do good in the world. Slalom is committed to adopting sustainable, responsible, and innovative practices so that each person can love their work and life, now and in the future. Our global ESG team is a part of that commitment.
Slalom’s global ESG team partners with customers to develop sustainability practices that impact their environmental and social footprint, while benefiting their profitability. We design a holistic ESG strategy in line with our customers’ business goals, which improves financial performance, builds brand value, reduces their carbon footprint, contributes to cost reduction, mitigates climate risk, and drives innovation.
We understand that ESG is a journey encompassing the entire business and external stakeholders. Embedding ESG principles into corporate purpose and strategy is critical for transformational success. We leverage an agile approach to iteratively collaborate with customers, assess impact, and deliver value. As ESG becomes the norm, we witness companies including ESG practices in their daily operations and organizational cultures, evolving from compliance to positive impact.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Slalom puts people at the center of our business. At its core, ESG is about isolating and mitigating risks while uncovering new opportunities. Slalom’s comprehensive ESG expertise spans strategy, technology, data, people, and processes. Our global ESG team scales Slalom’s impact by helping customers tackle their most pressing environmental and social challenges, and opportunities.
Businesses are defining their clear carbon neutral/negative goals and objectives to reduce their environmental impact by reporting their carbon footprints. Although it is not the only variable, we understand managing carbon is the driving factor in addressing climate change. This requires identifying improvement activities and initiatives to address ESG risks and opportunities while using auditable data to measure their impact and support the company’s public statements. In addition, impact tracking is required to show how companies’ carbon reduction projects impact the footprint.
Our offerings provide a set of processes, tools, and strategies for a company to identify, activate, measure, track, report, disclose, reduce its carbon footprint, and achieve net zero faster.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
I have seen a positive shift in the business community towards ESG initiatives. Customers are moving from focusing on ESG solely to meet compliance needs, to focusing on ESG to increase profitability. ESG drives differentiation in a competitive marketplace through innovative sustainable products and services, brand awareness, employee retention, and customer loyalty.
I read a recent study by the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business that looked at three large apparel companies and the ROI of their sustainability practices. They found one company achieved $34M in employee-related benefits. Another achieved $18M from a sustainable product program. I have also seen this translate to cost reduction. A logistics and transportation client I helped was able to achieve cost and emission reduction through a mechanism that tracked idle time for their trucks, enabling them to better educate their drivers on why reducing idle times was important for the planet and the company’s bottom line.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
From a very young age, I’ve been conscious of our impact on the environment and as a result, our planet and climate consciousness continues to be part of my family’s core values. My husband and I both work in this field. We both hope to instill these values in our son as he grows up. Here are five ways to inspire future change:
- Recycling — We try to recycle and reuse as much as possible. Products that were previously not recyclable are changing to become more environmentally friendly. Consumers are willing to pay a premium or buy a certain brand if their products are more easily recyclable, composted, or reused.
- Donating and using donated toys, and clothes — At home, we go through our clothes and new toys every year to decide what we can donate or pass on. We also re-use toys from my son’s cousins that he loves, especially books. Companies now focus on products that have longer life spans and multiple uses as consumers drive for longer-lasting, quality products. According to a Hapres Journal of Sustainability Research report, sales of sustainably marketed products have grown 2.7 times faster than conventional products, showing a 7.34% since 2015.
- Volunteering — My mom started volunteering with our local Latino community when we moved to the Washington, D.C., area from Mexico City in 2003. Just as she acclimated the entire family into volunteering, my husband and I are trying to do the same with our son as he grows. It’s not just me, employers are now sponsoring volunteer hours for their employees too, which they can use to bond with their families while helping their local community. Businesses that sponsor employee volunteer programs improve local communities while contributing to their employee’s holistic life and work environments. Americans want socially responsible companies — 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to improving the world.
- Reduce waste — We try to be more conscious about what we buy and use. We avoid plastic water bottles, buy food with little or no packaging, purchase only the food we will eat that week, and use reusable rags and cloths for cleaning. Though it’s home to only 4% of the world’s population, America is responsible for 12% of the planet’s trash. If we reduce the waste we throw out at home, we could make a big dent in reducing the amount of trash our country emits.
- Play Outside — Our planet has a lot to offer, and enjoying that beauty gives us a greater appreciation for our world, and thus, we take care of it. The hobbies our family pursues are those you can do outside, such as hiking, skiing, swimming, and playing tennis.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- What do you want to be known for — Sustainability encompasses every single aspect of a business — e.g., products and services, operations, customers, employees, investors, etc. Narrowing it down to the area’s material to your business or where you have strengths and weaknesses is key to making progress. Asking yourself where you want to play and what you want to be recognized for is one way to distinguish yourself as a professional or a corporation.
- Be a student — As an ESG professional, I have gone deep into ESG strategy, impact tracking, and reporting, but I will always see myself as a sustainability student. The market is evolving quickly, and as new businesses become change makers and leaders in the space, new topics arise, and new challenges emerge. Similarly, I continue to learn and evolve my thinking.
- Leverage your “friends” — It is impossible to know and solve all the challenges, that is why it is important to lean on others and make strong partnerships and relationships. This applies to our ESG global team at Slalom; we have formed strong partnerships and alliances with various technology companies to solve our customers’ sustainability challenges grounded in data and technology.
- Elevate the next generation — Many problems our planet and communities face might not be solved in our lifetime. It is up to the next generation to become involved and make a difference. I apply this to the colleagues I mentor and coach in the ESG space. If all consultants at Slalom learn and understand ESG principles, they can apply these principles to each project they deliver on — regardless of whether it is focused on ESG.
- Speak up — I have learned to use my voice to raise awareness for issues that are important to me. Through communication and understanding, we can learn from each other’s differences and work together on efforts we share and value. This was one of my core principles when I led Slalom D.C.’s employee resource group, Slalom Women, where I created space for women to share our experiences and support one another.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are two people who have really impacted my work and focus on ESG. Susan Kenniston was the founder of the Slalom ESG global team and has been my mentor in the sustainability space for several years. She was also a sponsor of my work, creating opportunities for me to lead and obtain more experience, including leading one of our most visible ESG strategy projects. Although she is no longer at Slalom, her impact on our work and specifically on my career is still felt.
Another leader I look up to is Kristine Rohls. She was the general manager of the DC office during my entire tenure there and is now Slalom’s chief ID&E officer. I worked closely with her while I led D.C.’s employee resource group, Slalom Women. One of the traits I admire and emulate as I continue to grow in my career is her ability to listen to every single person on her team, no matter their level or tenure. She also never shied away from receiving feedback, which I think made her a stronger leader and encouraged an environment of growth and vulnerability within her team.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Everyone should do one good deed a day. If we all had a checklist to accomplish one good deed a day — whether it be recycling something that wouldn’t otherwise get recycled or donating an old coat — any little action could trigger a chain of positive energy within ourselves and others. Translating this same movement to corporations, if each company or business leader could do one good deed a day, the impact would be tremendous.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
There is no way to be perfect, but there are a million ways to be great! I apply this to my work, my personal life, and now parenthood with a new baby.
For my work, there are a million ways to solve a problem and make a positive impact on our customers. Focusing and aiming for perfection at times slows us down and inhibits our ability to have an immediate impact. This is true for ESG. We often tell customers it’s okay not to have all their ESG journey figured out before taking a stance or being transparent to their stakeholders. It takes time to have all their data collected, goals established, improvement actions identified, and governance in place. They can start to make an impact, even if it isn’t perfect.
I worked with a beauty supplier company that had a few ideas of where they wanted to focus their ESG efforts but were overwhelmed by the possibilities and changing ESG landscape, and therefore had not started. We were able to help them identify three material areas for them to tackle and establish their strategy. We further supported them in identifying risks and opportunities for those focus areas and developing an actionable roadmap to tackle those initiatives over time. It all happens one step at a time.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Demand for responsible products, services, and operations is growing faster than ever. Globally, businesses are ramping up their ESG efforts to develop new capabilities and responsibly manage resources.
At Slalom, we have a team dedicated to ESG that is committed to working with customers to future-proof their business across relevant impact areas and functions. Follow me on LinkedIn, and if you would like to learn more about how ESG can positively impact your bottom line, read the article I wrote with my colleague Tim Purtill, “3 Reasons Why ESG is More Important than Ever in a Recession.”
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!