Starbucks was enjoying a global growth spurt in 2003 when Sandra Taylor joined the Seattle-based coffee producer. The company had 6,500-plus stores worldwide and was opening more at a rate of six per day, she said.
Recruited to oversee corporate social responsibility — then a new position at the company — Ms. Taylor’s job was to position the brand as one that cared about the environment and social issues in its rapidly expanding markets, and to make that concern core to its long-term business plan.
While Starbucks’ founders had already earned good marks for charitable giving and providing employees with decent wages and health benefits, top executives wanted Ms. Taylor to push corporate responsibility to a new level through initiatives such as improving recycling and energy efficiency in stores, using responsibly sourced wood in store construction, and adopting fair wages and loan programs for farmers that grow Starbucks’ coffee and cocoa beans in developing nations.
“That was my mantra … to make social responsibility part of the business strategy and not just doing good works,” she said.
Among the programs she launched for Starbucks was Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices. Still in effect, it established guidelines for purchasing ethically sourced coffee. The guidelines include making sure payments to suppliers reach the farmers; ensuring workers are paid minimum wage and have safe environments; and monitoring environmental practices of farmers and producers involving water and energy conservation.
For her accomplishments at Starbucks, as well as inroads she made in corporate social responsibility while working at Eastman Kodak and elsewhere, Ms. Taylor has been named the 2015 winner of the exemplary leadership award from the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership.
The institute, based at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, engages in research and offers classes and programs that focus on ethics and accountable leadership primarily in the public sector.
The institute’s six previous award recipients have worked at nonprofits, universities or government agencies.
This year, “We wanted to recognize someone from the business world, someone who’s made a distinctive contribution from the private sector,” said Kevin Kearns, institute director and professor at Pitt’s GSPIA. “People who have made strides in corporate social responsibility came to mind, and this was a great opportunity to recognize Sandra’s work in this area.”
Ms. Taylor, 59, will accept the award and deliver a lecture March 20 at Pitt’s O’Hara Student Center.
Based in Washington, D.C., since she left Starbucks in 2008 to launch her own consulting firm, Sustainable Business International, Ms. Taylor got her start in corporate social responsibility issues long before CSR and sustainability became business buzzwords.
After finishing law school, she worked at a law firm in Denver for a year, then joined the U.S. Department of State as an economic officer who specialized in international trade and business issues.
That led to a Capitol Hill job on the staff of the late Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee before she joined the U.S. subsidiary of British-based Imperial Chemical Industries.
At Imperial Chemical, where she started as an international trade policy specialist, Ms. Taylor eventually became vice president of public affairs. She collaborated with other chemical makers including Dow and DuPont to develop the “Responsible Care” initiative that encourages the chemical industry to focus on health, safety and environmental issues.
That job also provided her unexpected introduction to crisis communications: a fertilizer made by Imperial Chemical was used in the bomb that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 in a 1995 domestic terrorist attack at the federal office building in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Families of the victims sued the chemical company, but a judge said it was not negligent and dismissed the case.
As a result of publicity surrounding Imperial Chemical’s connection to the bomb, Eastman Kodak recruited Ms. Taylor to handle worldwide public affairs and global philanthropy. Seven years later, she was tapped by Starbucks to oversee its corporate responsibility and sustainability efforts.
“It was a great opportunity but really hard, with a lot of demands on anybody connected with the new markets and openings,” she said. “At the time, CSR was still relatively new as a field.”
By the time she left Starbucks, “I was spending so much time with other companies telling them how to do CSR that I felt there was a business in this for me.”
Ms. Taylor is also involved in groups that advance women’s issues. She was among the original members of the La Pietra Coalition that advocates for women’s economic empowerment.
She made time to earn a master of business administration in wine management from the Bordeaux School of Management in France. Her thesis topic: sustainability in the wine supply chain.
“Wine has very similar issues to coffee with sustainable agriculture,” she said. “The sweet spot for me is with the grape growers.”
Prior to the award ceremony at Pitt, the institute will host a discussion, “Women in Leadership: Milestones and Challenges” featuring moderator Barbara Mistick, president of Wilson College, Franklin County, and former president of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; and panelists Marisa Bartley, executive director, PNC YMCA; Muge Finkel, assistant professor of international development, GSPIA; Terry Miller, director, Pitt’s Institute of Politics; and Lourdes Sanchez Ridge, chief legal officer and solicitor, City of Pittsburgh.
The event is free and open to the public. For information, go to: www.johnsoninstitute-gspia.org