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M/RY /NN ||EBER, |NC. \|. 1 N. 2 /PR|| 2008 D|: 10.108/SdS.2008.

81 SUSTAINABILITY 97
e Sustainability Professional
On the Record with Anita Roper
Director of Sustainability, Alcoa
Working on sustainability issues for a company that
has a surface mining component can be, well, a
mineeld. Mining can connote all sorts of plan-
etary ills, from strip mining to workplace hazards
associated with dangerous collapses to polluted runo.
So it may be a surprise to some that Alcoa, the worlds
leading manufacturer of aluminum, is also working to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the amount of
aluminum that is recycled, and contribute to safer, more
sustainable communities where the company operates.
In this one-on-one interview with Alcoas Anita Roper,
Sustainability: e Journal of Record talks to her
about why Alcoa broadened its sustainability goals,
how the aluminum company has engaged stakeholders
to win approval of its projects, and whether she makes
balls out of aluminum foil.
You joined Alcoa just a few years ago as its rst
director of sustainability. What are the unique
challenges to taking on a job that didnt exist
previously?
ats an interesting question because, while the
job wasnt there previously, the commitment to
sustainability was. e concept was not new to Al-
coa. Sustainability and the values the company is
based on owed through its decision making. Other
companies have created positions on sustainability
without really thinking through the business case.
Alcoa had really thought about sustainability and
needed someone to help implement sustainability
principles. It was a great opportunity for someone
like me, because I didnt have to spend the rst six
months on the job selling the concept of sustainability.
Probably the biggest challenge I had early on was
articulating sustainability in a slightly dierent way.
In the minds of some, sustainability equals the envi-
ronment. While thats obviously a critical part of the
story for us, its only one part of the story.
We use the three pillars of sustainability: Environ-
mental excellence, social responsibility, and nancial
success. e important piece for us was to think of
sustainability as broader than the environment. Our
goal was to deliver net long-term benets to the ve
stakeholder groups weve identied: Communities
in which we operate, suppliers, our customers, our
employees, and our shareholders, in no particular
order.
For us to understand net long-term benets for our
stakeholders, we have to go and talk to them. Until
we do that, no one sitting at Alcoa can know what
our stakeholders really want. We might think we do,
but we dontso you have to go and talk to them. By
doing that, you start the process of dialogue, which
then helps you understand their expectations and
also helps them understand us. is dialogue also
helps us prioritize sustainability at the local level,
since one size doesnt t all when it comes to sus-
tainability. Sustainability has to be relevant to your
business, to the community, and to the situation.
How has your role changed and your oce
expanded since you joined the company?
I came into the organization thinking that I could
help the company develop a set of sustainability
principles. In reality, that was one of the rst things
I decided not to do. e reason was that I started to
understand the values of Alcoa and how deep-rooted
they were. ese values are at the heart of the organi-
zation and are very consistent with sustainability.
e other change that evolved over time was mov-
ing from a more corporate-thinking approach to a
business-unit approach in terms of application of
sustainability. Bear in mind that the overall philoso-
phy is integration and making sustainability relevant.
Sustainability issues are dierent among our busi-
nesses. Stakeholder engagement is an example.
Commencing engagement at the early stages with
the local community is a core action across the com-
pany, but how it is conducted can be very dierent
depending on what the business is and where youre
operating.
For example, a sustainability initiative Alcoa under-
took in Iceland, where there is a developed com-
munity, was a formal process. It was very dierent
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Close Up: Anita Roper
Working on sustainability issues for a company that has a surface mining
component can be, well, a mineeld. Mining can connote all sorts of plan-
etary ills, from strip mining to workplace hazards associated with dangerous
collapses, to polluted runo. So it may be a surprise to some that Alcoa,
the worlds leading manufacturer of aluminum, is also working to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, increase the amount of aluminum that is recycled,
and contribute to safer, more sustainable communities where the company
operates.
In this one-on-one interview with Alcoas Anita Roper, Sustainability: e
Journal of Record talks to her about why Alcoa broadened its sustainability
goals, how the aluminum company has engaged stakeholders to win approv-
al of its projects, and whether she makes balls out of aluminum foil.
You joined Alcoa just a few years ago as its rst director of sustainability.
What are the unique challenges to taking on a job that didnt exist previ-
ously?
ats an interesting question because, while the job wasnt there previ-
ously, the commitment to sustainability was. e concept was not new
to Alcoa. Sustainability and the values the company is based on owed
through its decision making. Other companies have created positions on
sustainability without really thinking through the business case. Alcoa had
really thought about sustainability and needed someone to help imple-
ment sustainability principles. It was a great opportunity for someone like
me, because I didnt have to spend the rst six months on the job selling
the concept of sustainability.
Probably the biggest challenge I had early on was articulating sustainabil-
ity in a slightly dierent way. In the minds of some, sustainability equals
the environment. While thats obviously a critical part of the story for us,
its only one part of the story.
We use the three pillars of sustainability: Environmental excellence, so-
cial responsibility, and nancial success. e important piece for us was
to think of sustainability as broader than the environment. Our goal was
to deliver net long-term benets to the ve stakeholder groups weve iden-
tied: Communities in which we operate, suppliers, our customers, our
employees, and our shareholders, in no particular order.
For us to understand net long-term benets for our stakeholders, we
have to go and talk to them. Until we do that, no one sitting at Alcoa can
know what our stakeholders really want. We might think we do, but we
dontso you have to go and talk to them. By doing that, you start the
process of dialogue, which then helps you understand their expectations
and also helps them understand us. is dialogue also helps us prioritize
sustainability at the local level, since one size doesnt t all when it comes
to sustainability. Sustainability has to be relevant to your business, to the
community, and to the situation.
How has your role changed and your oce expanded since you joined the
company?
I came into the organization thinking that I could help the company de-
velop a set of sustainability principles. In reality, that was one of the rst
98 SUSTAINABILITY M/RY /NN ||EBER, |NC. \|. 1 N. 2 /PR|| 2008 D|: 10.108/SdS.2008.81
from the stakeholder engagement we are currently
involved with in Guinea in west Africa, where were
sitting under trees to discuss our project. Forget
PowerPoint. Many people cant read or write. Trans-
lations usually go through three iterations, from
English to French to the local village language. It
requires a very dierent approach.
Has the oce expanded? Absolutely not. Its
not about building a big corporate function. Its
about decentralizationpushing it down into the
businesses. I work very closely with people at the
business level.
e phrases mining company and good cor-
porate citizen arent oen found in the same
sentence. How do you persuade skeptics that
Alcoa is serious about sustainability?
Performance, front and center. We try and avoid a
PR approach to sustainability. Were a metrics-driven
company, and this comes from being an engineer-
ing company. at really applies to our sustainability
approach as well.
We have a long history of reporting our data over
many years. We try and let that speak for itself. We
think it has, as weve earned signicant external
recognition. Were on the list of the top 100 sustain-
able companies in the world. [Alcoa was included in
the annual Global 100 list announced in January at
the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.]
Weve been a member of the Dow Jones sustainabil-
ity index for a number of years.
What accomplishments during your tenure at
Alcoa are you proudest of?
e things Im proudest of have been a team eort.
Sustainability is not about one person. Its usually
about a whole lot of people. I need the business unit
leadership for me to achieve. Some of those leaders
have been willing to take a risk. Without them, my
life would be a lot harder.
A second Alcoa accomplishment that Im proud of
involved stakeholder engagement. ere was some
conict around our smelter in Iceland, not so much
about the smelter itself but about the associated
hydropower facility that was to be built by a
power company. Wed gone through the permitting
process and the smelter had been approved, but there
was still a lot of angst in the community about the
perception of the smelter.
About three years ago, we set up a stakeholder
engagement program using an external consultant
and put an NGO [nongovernmental organization]
on the management committee so it was very trans-
parent. With a blank sheet of paper, we got together
about 30 representative people from the community
to talk about what their perceptions were and what
the issues were with the plant and the hydropower
facility going forward. We also brought in those
opposed to the project. We developed a set of 70
metric indicators to measure the performance of the
plant going forward.
e plant became operational last year. In ve years,
the community can say, Alcoa, you did what you
said you were going to do, or, You didnt do what
you said you were going to do.
e project encouraged a lot of other folks in
other parts of our business to say, I want to look
at something like this in our community; I want to
take another look at our advisory groups and how
they work. Its had a big impact throughout the
company. It was pretty novel at the time to do some-
thing like this.
Can you give an example of Alcoas openness?
At the business level, a lot of companies set up a
partnership around important projects. Some of
the partnerships Ive been able to work on with our
business units are about bringing in NGOs to help us
with business missions and processes that weve got.
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One in particular involved Conservation Interna-
tional (www.conservation.org). Its rapid assessment
program on biodiversity identies the hot spot
issues in a particular area were in, whether its ora
or fauna. Conservation International pulls together
an international team that goes in for two to three
weeks to do a rapid assessment study while living in
the area. e team holds a public workshop at the
end and talks about the ndings, and we get to hear
the results at the same time as everyone else. Within
about four to six weeks, Conservation International
gives us a rough report. Usually about 12 months
later, Conservation International develops a very
comprehensive report that includes photographs.
Weve used the rapid assessment program as part of
our environmental impact assessment process. We
bring the teams in early enough so if there are any
hot spots in the area, we know. It can help in deci-
sion making.
We have done this in areas in Guinea, Suriname,
and Ghana where this type of work has not previ-
ously been done. Whatever happens, were leaving
something of value in the country, since these rapid
assessments go into academia and libraries.
How do Alcoas eorts on sustainability compare
to those of other corporations?
Its a bit of a dicult question. No company has the
same sustainability issues. In some areas, were lead-
ers, such as in climate change. In other areas, weve
still got work to do. I think that almost applies to any
company. You really need to pick the sustainability
component you want to benchmark. I dont think
youre going to nd one company that has it all.
What are Alcoas priorities for sustainability?
Our general priority is to integrate sustainability
into our businesses to make it a part of the thinking
during business planning, project design, and
expansions. Climate change and energy are
denitely the top priorities. Elimination of work-
place fatalities is critical. e availability of fresh
water is also a priority.
For us and for any company, the key challenge is to
prioritize sustainability so its relevant to what you
are doing. Its dicult, because there are so many dif-
ferent interest groups and pressure put on companies
that sometimes you can have a scattered approach to
sustainability and end up doing nothing well.
Alcoa just became a founding reporter on the Cli-
mate Change Registry (www.theclimateregistry.
org), which publicly reports greenhouse gas emis-
sions. Are you nervous about the numbers that
might be reported?
Im not at all nervous. Weve had a sustainability
framework and metrics in place that include green-
M/RY /NN ||EBER, |NC. \|. 1 N. 2 /PR|| 2008 D|: 10.108/SdS.2008.81 SUSTAINABILITY 99

Snapshot
Sustainability Program, Alcoa
- e diiectoi of sustainability position was
established in 2004, but Alcoa has been
involved with sustainability for many years.
- Mandate: To integiate sustainability
concepts into Alcoas operations
- Goals foi 2008: To deepen stakeholdei
engagement
- Dedicated Sta: 1 plus consultants. Othei
Sta: ~116,000 Alcoa employees
- Annual Budget: eie's no dedicated
budget just for the sustainability program.
Youd have to bring in the environment
budget, the human resources budget, etc.
ere is also the Alcoa Foundation.
Its not about my budget; thats not where
the money sits. You cant keep all this
separate if you try to integrate it into the
business. Anita Roper
Alcoa at a Glance
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house gas emissions since 2000. On the environment
side, I think weve been reporting our numbers pub-
licly for something like 15 years. So its not new. If
theres a number around, we measure it.
I think weve seen the benet of reporting our num-
bers publicly. Internally, it drives change. Externally,
its helped us in our discussions with our stakehold-
ers. I think our stakeholders as a whole have really
appreciated that weve been out there with our num-
bers and that if we dont hit something, we talk about
why we didnt.
Its all well and good for corporate headquarters
to be espousing sustainability, but how does this
message lter down to workers in mines?
Its about making it relevantin Brazil, in Canada, in
Jamaica. at involves training, prioritizing sustain-
ability issues that are relevant for the particular area,
and developing the program to go with it.
Alcoa has operations in many countries around the
world. Should the same environmental standards
used in the United States be applied elsewhere?
It doesnt necessarily have to be the U.S. standard, but
the answer is yes. We have Alcoa standards, and they
are equal to or more stringent than U.S. standards.
We apply these standards across the globe. Most of
the multinationals have that same philosophy.
Do you make balls out of used aluminum foil?
No, but I have a soup ladle made out of recycled
aluminum from Guinea.