Brian Goldner, President & CEO for Hasbro, Inc. discussed how sharing an authentic story can inspire ethical behavior.

By Brian Goldner

At Hasbro, storytelling is integral to everything we do. You see it in our brands, which embrace storytelling as a way of fulfilling our mission to “Create the World’s Best Play Experiences.” You see it in how we engage with consumers, who no longer think of us as a toy and game company but as a source of immersive entertainment experiences.

But one of our most powerful uses of storytelling is in how we see ourselves—as individuals, community members, and corporate citizens. That’s because the best stories do more than just entertain; they also reveal deeper truths, carrying audiences on a powerful journey rich with challenges, growth, and change. Stories can help shape how we think, who we are, and what we do.

We know this from experience. The story of Hasbro’s journey to help build a safer, more sustainable world for future generations has had a significant impact within our walls. It’s helped us build a culture of integrity, in which ethical leadership is a given and each of us takes accountability for our actions. It’s helped us weather crises, work through our challenges, and strengthen our relationships with numerous stakeholders. In short, sharing our story has helped make us a better company.

Stepping out

Hasbro has always been committed to doing the right thing as a company. But for most of our 90 years of existence, we lived by this mantra while keeping a relatively low profile. Like most companies, we believe that acting ethically is our internal compass but saw little reason to discuss our behavior externally.

But then the toy industry crisis hit in the late 2000s. Seemingly overnight, millions of Chinese-manufactured toys were recalled for having elevated levels of lead paint. Other industries experienced similar recalls, including pet food, toothpaste, and lipstick. Suddenly everyone from the media to consumers to US policymakers wanted to know what toy companies were doing to keep children safe.

We were in much better shape than many of our competitors. Thanks to our safety standards and quality assurance processes, we didn’t experience a single product recall. But we knew we couldn’t just wait for the crisis to blow over.

And then we made a critical shift. We changed our point of view. Rather than looking at transparency as having nothing to hide, we looked at it as having something to share. We knew we had an important story to tell about product safety, so we started talking about it. We worked closely with US Congress to shape new legislation and testified to share our industry-leading testing protocols for lead paint in third-party factories. We, in turn, worked closely and collaborated with regulators, our industry, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to develop sound global standards. We became known on Capitol Hill as a company that accepted accountability for our products throughout the value chain and was willing to share stories and experiences for the collective good.

This philosophy—this story of our accountability—now defines our approach throughout the company. We participate in candid conversations about difficult issues within our industry. We continually evaluate our actions by asking how they’ll affect individuals, communities, and even ecosystems. By sharing how we do things and why they matter, we’ve created an expectation of ethical behavior at Hasbro that continues to ripple throughout our business.

Ethics through engagement

Our evolving sustainability story is also a point of pride at Hasbro. When we released our first CSR report in 2011, we engaged with consumers, shareholders, NGOs, and other stakeholders to learn what they cared about most. We’ve since made great progress in many of those areas. In 2013, we eliminated PVC from our toy and game packaging. Three years earlier, we stopped using wire ties in our packaging, which saved approximately 34,000 miles of wire in the first year while also making our packages easier to open.

We also addressed the environmental impact of our operations, cutting GHG emissions at our owned and operated facilities by 32 percent from 2008 to 2012. In addition, we now source over 85 percent of our paper and paperboard packaging from recycled materials or sustainably managed forests. We have even more ambitious goals for the future.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve been up front about our biggest environmental challenges. Finding alternatives to the materials we use to make our products will always be difficult, because our products must be able to withstand reasonable use and abuse during play. We acknowledge the need to find materials with a lesser environmental impact, but it’s a long-term process.

These are lessons that apply to all companies, in all industries. Communicating the things you do well, the things you aspire to do better, and the challenges you need to overcome leads to openness and accountability. It makes your relationships with stakeholders—consumers, employees, shareholders, and regulators—more consistent, trustworthy, and transparent. Because our stakeholders know we’re not just checking off the boxes when we work together. In Hasbro’s culture, if we’re consistent in our expectations, we can’t help but be ethical.

How does this play out in practice? Our employees are more engaged, because they want to work for a company that shares their values and priorities. This is especially true with millennials, who fully expect companies to embrace and respond to pressing social and environmental issues. We also released a new code of conduct in 2014 that further clarifies our expectations, so they share in the accountability we’ve built company-wide.

Our consumers know that we can be trusted when talking about the safety of our products. We conduct thorough assessments throughout the entire development and manufacturing cycle to ensure we’re not missing anything. And children and parents are always top of mind when we look for ways to make the best play experiences while reducing our environmental impact, so we can contribute to building a better world for children and families.

Governments and NGOs know that we’re eager to collaborate and engage on difficult challenges, and work together on solutions. In addition to working with US legislators on toy safety, we also engaged with NGOs when we developed our paper policy in 2011.

Our story resonates outside of Hasbro as well. We debuted on CR Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens list at No. 23 in 2012, and have been in the top 25 every year since. This year we ranked No. 2. And we’ve been named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies® by the Ethisphere Institute for four years running.

Storytelling isn’t just a promotional strategy. Stories are how people process information. They can enthrall audiences, incite emotions, and inspire action, making them incredibly powerful for companies wanting to motivate ethical behavior at every level. Our story has helped us become a smarter, more reliable partner to our stakeholders and a stronger business. That’s partially because it belongs to more than just us. It belongs to our employees, our consumers, our industry, and everyone else with whom we do business. So invite others to share in your story. Your company will be better for it.

Author Biography:

Brian Goldner has served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Hasbro, Inc. since 2008, and was appointed Chairman in May 2015. Mr. Goldner has led and championed the company’s CSR progress, including directing the formation of the company’s CSR practice in 2011. Mr. Goldner’s vision of Hasbro as a “trust mark”—a company that continuously strives to do the right thing for society and the environment and produces high-quality, safe products—has been a driving force in the growth and increasing visibility of Hasbro’s CSR reputation.

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This article was featured in the Q3 2015 issue of Ethisphere Magazine. To subscribe and learn more about Ethisphere Magazine click here.