Communitas Awards Spotlight: Alliance Data

Communitas Awards Individual: Alliance Data
Title: “2014 Excellence in Community Services”
Location: Plano, Texas
Category: 1. Leadership in Community Service

Alliance Data Systems

When designing and implementing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan, professionals must look outward at community initiatives as well as inward if they want to create an all-inclusive strategy. Few companies have broad plans that address CSR at every level; however, Alliance Data is one of the rare ones that does and it has its strategy laid out in a well-documented plan.

To learn why the company, recently named one of the world’s most admired companies by Fortune, decided to create a formal strategy, we spoke with Danielle Ricketts, external communications specialist for Alliance Data. Ricketts was also able to give us a glimpse at its results inside and outside the Texas-based business.

Q: Alliance Data’s approach to corporate responsibility is comprehensive, covering not only community service but also other efforts that result in positive change and improved business practices. Why did leadership decide to create a formal strategy, and how has it affected Alliance Data overall?

A: While Alliance Data has always operated responsibly, in 2013 we formalized these actions and beliefs into a strategy to help us formalize our goals, and demonstrate and measure our progress. Our commitment to becoming a better community partner and stronger corporate citizen is focused on four areas – data, community, people and environment.

We’re a leading global provider of marketing, loyalty, and branded credit solutions, using data to achieve powerful results for our clients, many of which are Fortune 1000 companies. Together, our three businesses manage more than 100 million consumer relationships for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Today we employ more than 12,000 associates in 80 locations worldwide, and in 2013, their stellar performance led us to record revenue of $4.3B USD. Additionally, in late 2013, Alliance Data was formally added to the S&P 500.

With this kind of success, there comes an even greater responsibility to being a good corporate citizen. Our community efforts are enterprise-wide and supported by our executive leadership. Each year, we increase our corporate giving budget at a rate commensurate with the profitability and growth of our company. Additionally, each of our businesses manages its philanthropic activities independently and focuses on what matters most to their associates. We are extremely proud of the high level of associate engagement in our giving back programs across the enterprise and know that the positive impacts are felt among the charities we support, and across our associate population.

As an active partner in the communities where we live and work, Alliance Data knows that our contribution of time, talent and resources allows our communities to prosper. We are committed to continuous improvement in all that we do, and our approach to community involvement is no different.

Alliance Data CSR

Q: A few years ago, Alliance Data began measuring its environmental footprint. What spurred this project and what action has the company taken since?

A: Every day our individual actions and business operations have a direct impact on the world we live in. As a service-based company, our environmental impact may not be as visible others. But it is expected that companies of our size understand our impacts and work to identify opportunities for improvement. So in 2012 we began to quantify our carbon footprint through an enterprise-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, enabling us to measure and compare our performance year over year. In addition to looking at our direct emissions (fuel), we expanded the scope of our GHG inventory in 2013 to include our Scope 3 emissions which includes emissions from associate travel, the manufacturing of paper and freight. While we have less control and influence over these Scope 3 emissions, it was important to us to demonstrate leadership in our methodology and approach. We also believed that broadening our analysis could uncover additional opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint, by engaging in GHG reduction projects with our clients and business partners.

In 2014, we plan to establish a GHG reduction target and action plan based on the findings and recommendations resulting from our 2013 inventory. We have some opportunities to reduce emissions in our Scope 1 and 2 emissions; however, Scope 3 will be more challenging. Much of the growth planned for our business relates to increasing the number of strategic partnerships with our clients. We need to balance our clients’ needs and expectations with sustainability considerations.

This year, we also initiated a baseline waste survey to better understand waste management practices across the company and to identify opportunities for improvement. We will continue to measure and seek ways to strategically reduce our impacts through environmentally responsible practices and decision-making. We are also committed to finding ways to educate, encourage and support the environmentally responsible actions of our associates and business partners.

Moving forward, we are focusing our efforts on three impact areas where we believe we have opportunities for improvement — energy, waste and paper. There are many interconnections between these impact areas as well. For example, if we find ways to reduce our overall paper consumption, we will also reduce our total carbon footprint.

Q: Tell me about your matching grants program. How are employees reacting to it?

A: Through the Matching Gifts program, Alliance Data matches dollar-for-dollar associates’ gifts to any eligible charitable organization – whether it’s one we already support, or one our associates are passionate about. Multiple times throughout the year, we also do a two-for-one match where we triple associate donation dollars, helping make a greater impact in the community.

Associates tell us, “I am proud of Alliance Data’s Matching Gifts Program because it amplifies my charitable giving.” And, “Alliance Data has a very strong commitment to Community Service and regularly encourages all associates to get involved even when it is on company time!”

Additionally, we created an Internal Grant Reward program that each year gives four associates from across the enterprise, a chance to apply for a $10,000 grant for the non-profit of their choice. Through this program, associates submit an application, which a panel reviews and then chooses the top four organizations that align with Alliance Data’s community focus areas: education, independent living and children’s advocacy, or the environment. Winners are selected based on associate volunteer engagement and community impact.

Once nominated, the associate and at least two other coworkers will roll up their sleeves and spend a day volunteering at their organization. Associates awarded then share their community impact efforts by documenting the “grant in action” with video footage and/or photos for future use in an issue of Alliance Data’s enterprise-wide magazine, Insight.

An associate grant winner last year said of the program, “I loved that I had the opportunity to give back and truly help an organization that I love! It also puts a light (even a small one) on organizations that others support.”

Q: What were some of last year’s highlights? Is there any initiative or outcome that you’re especially proud of? Why?

A: In 2013, we invested nearly $4.5 million in the community, an investment that was made with much consideration into the level of our giving and how the money is being spent. We surveyed our associates in 2008, which determined that education, children, and independent living are three areas that they wanted the company to support. Key partnerships include: United Way, Kids Help Phone, Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Children’s Health, Motionball, Homeport, LaunchAbility and Habitat for Humanity, among others.

Our associate volunteers also invested close to 15,000 hours of their time to local organizations in their communities. Additionally, we matched associate donations amounting to $530,000 through our matching gifts program.

  • $4.5M invested in the community in 2013
  • 80% of associates surveyed believe Alliance Data makes communities a better place to live and work
  • 82% of associates surveyed feel they are encouraged to give back to their communities
  • During an annual three-day campaign, Alliance Data matches associate charitable donations two-for-one
  • 15,000 total volunteer hours logged by our associates in 2013
  • 935 volunteer hours logged by 126 associates over eight days for Habitat for Humanity
  • $532,298 in associate donations matched through the Alliance Data matching gifts program
  • Four teams of associates were awarded $10,000 grants through our new Internal Grant program

Q: What’s ahead for Alliance Data’s corporate responsibility efforts?

A: Alliance Data has done very well from a financial performance perspective, but strong financial success only means a greater obligation to give and do more.We want Alliance Data to be known as a company that associates consider the best place they have ever worked; as a company that is making a difference in the community; and as a trusted partner to our clients and their customers.

  • We will continue to be a leader in the secure and responsible use of consumer data.
  • We will annually increase our corporate giving budget at a rate that matches the profitability and growth of the company.
  • We will strive to increase associate engagement and enablement scores and reduce our voluntary turnover rate.
  • And, we’ll work to measurably reduce our carbon footprint.