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CEOs focus on ethical issues |

CEOs focus on ethical issues

Thomas Olson
| Friday, November 16, 2007 12:00 a.m

Picture U.S. Steel Corp.’s 45,000 employees going a whole year without missing work due to a job-related injury. Or imagine power plants burning Consol Energy Inc.’s 67 million tons of coal produced in a year without spewing pollution.

Their CEOs have. Three local corporate chiefs on Thursday voiced such aspirations for their companies — and for society — during Duquesne University’s first Eugene P. Beard Symposium on Emerging Issues in Business Ethics.

“Figuring out how to burn coal without emissions,” said Consol CEO J. Brett Harvey, “is like putting a man on the moon. We’ll figure out how to do it.”

U.S. Steel workers averaged 1.1 days a year of lost work per employee due to injury in 2003 and has cut that rate to 0.14 days so far this year, said CEO John Surma.

“Our objective is zero,” he said. “For us, it begins and ends with safety.”

The theme of the inaugural symposium was “Sustainable Business: Beyond the Bottom Line.” The CEO forum was moderated by PNC Bank regional President Sy Holzer, who described sustainable businesses as companies “advancing public good through sustainable, long-term practices.” That entails social, ethical, financial and environmental practices.

For instance, 65 percent of the steel produced in the United States last year used recycled steel “because it’s good for business (reducing costs) and good for the environment,” Surma said. Steel is “infinitely recyclable” and last year equaled four times the amount of recycled aluminum, glass and plastic combined, he said.

Giant Eagle Inc. CEO David Shapira said his supermarket chain “takes our social responsibility very seriously.” The privately held company, for instance, gives back 5 percent of its pre-tax profit to communities in its Western Pennsylvania/Northeastern Ohio markets, he said.

“But if we’re not profitable businesses, all the do-gooding in the world won’t matter because we won’t be in business,” Shapira said.

On business ethics, Harvey praised as “good for the country in the long term” the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, adopted in 2002 after Enron and other accounting scandals, that requires higher levels of management responsibility. Other executives often criticize the law’s regulations as cumbersome and costly.

“Can you legislate morality• No,” said Harvey. “You’re either honest and willing to do the right thing, or you’re willing to game the system.”

For the historical perspective, former Time magazine managing editor and Benjamin Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson described the famous Founding Father as “the epitome of value-based leadership.”

Isaacson, now president of the Aspen Institute, which promotes enlightened leadership, said Franklin espoused a “shopkeeper’s values” of industry, honesty, frugality and tolerance.

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