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Giving back: PSEG lights up lives as well as homes

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Ellen Lambert, chief diversity officer and senior director, corporate citizenship and culture, president - PSEG's foundation, PSEG.
Ellen Lambert, chief diversity officer and senior director, corporate citizenship and culture, president - PSEG's foundation, PSEG. - ()

When the City of Newark celebrated its 350th anniversary earlier this year, The 100 People Foundation—a New York City-based organization that helps students to understand complex issues—wanted to celebrate the city's rich history and culture by creating a gift of 100 photographs and on-camera interviews with Newark residents.

The PSEG Foundation—the Newark-based philanthropic arm of Public Service Enterprise Group, which owns the New Jersey utility company PSE&G—stepped up to the bat to fund the project.

“You can’t view the 100 pictures and read the stories behind them without being struck by the breadth and depth of talent here in the city,” said Ralph Izzo, chairman of PSEG, when he formally presented Newark Mayor Ras Baraka with the city’s gift. “The pride in Newark and the great hope for the future shines through all of them. PSEG has been part of this community for nearly 114 years and we are proud to bestow this gift of the 100 People Project to Newark as a celebration of the rich diversity of its citizens.”

Companies like PSE&G are more than profit-making entities, according to Ellen Lambert, who serves as PSEG’s director of Corporate Responsibility and Culture, chief diversity officer, and president of the PSEG Foundation. She said that companies have a responsibility to shareholders, but they’re also part of a community and have a responsibility to contribute to it.

Titles matter

You know the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, has gone mainstream when a company the size of PSE&G—about 13,100 employees serving 2.2 million electric customers and 1.8 million gas customers in New Jersey—has a position called director of Corporate Responsibility and Culture.

“I guess my job reflects the way companies like PSE&G are focusing more on the culture of hiring and keeping the best talent by doing the right things,” said Ellen Lambert, who serves as PSEG’s director of Corporate Responsibility and Culture. “It’s a good internal culture and a good external culture.”

It also fits with the personal philosophy of Lambert—before joining PSEG, she worked as a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, went back to school to earn a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law and became a corporate bankruptcy lawyer, then finally returned to her first love: helping people. Her bio reflects leadership positions in the Merck Foundation, the Roche Foundation, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, and the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Foundation.

“There’s a relationship between inclusion, decency and respect,” she said. “The idea is to achieve a balance between that and continuing to run an organization in an efficient manner. But the concepts don’t have to be in conflict.”

“Many things have changed since our founding in 1903, but our unwavering commitment to the community by giving back—both by the company and by our employees—has remained a constant,” said Lambert. “If you look at a corporation as just a profit and dividend-generating enterprise, you’ll forget that our business purposes all involve the community. We light homes and heat them, and help people cook meals. So the world doesn’t just revolve just around business. The concept of corporate social responsibility started more than a century ago when companies took care of employees by building housing for them, and then it grew over the years to a broader participation in the community.”

The foundation is primarily funded by PSEG and had assets of about $29 million in 2015, according to the most recent Form 990 that was publicly available. During that year it disbursed about $8.7 million in grants, which Lambert said is about average in any given year.

The foundation’s efforts include a $350,000 grant in 2016 to support the American Red Cross’ Home Fire Campaign, a nationwide effort in collaboration with local fire departments and other community partners to mobilize resources to save lives and reduce injuries from home fires. “The Red Cross New Jersey Region, along with PSE&G employee volunteers, played their part in reducing fire injuries and deaths by helping to install smoke alarms in residents’ homes and distribute fire safety information,” according to Lambert. “Good corporate citizenship is about being part of the community and supporting it.”

The PSEG Foundation has also partnered with Sesame Workshop, donating more than $1.3 million since 2014 to develop programs like Let’s Get Ready: Planning Together for Emergencies; and Here For Each Other: Helping Families After Emergencies.

The business benefits of being responsible

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility is pretty broad, according to Michael Barnett, a Management and Global Business Professor at Rutgers Business School Newark and New Brunswick.

“CSR entails a broad set of activities that most companies have always engaged in to some degree, whether it be providing pay and benefits to employees that at least marginally exceed what’s required by law and is necessary to retain them, or donating to local charities in the community,” said Barnett, whose research includes firms’ CSR activities. “It seems that more companies are using the broader concept of CSR to bundle together, manage, and advertise such activities, though, whereas in the past companies may have given less heed to explicitly organizing under the CSR umbrella.”

This is particularly true for companies that deal with consumers, and ones that depend on highly skilled and younger workers, he said. “Consumers and employees now have more information available via digital and social media about how firms are being both socially and environmentally responsible, as well as irresponsible, and are more willing to make purchase and employment decisions on these bases,” Barnett said.

Large companies have more resources and a bigger voice, so they “obviously make larger splashes when they announce major CSR initiatives,” Barnett said. “But smaller businesses can have a much more direct impact on their local communities, from supporting local workers better, paying their fair share of taxes, donating to local service organizations and encouraging their employees to do so; and by using fair, transparent governance practices, to name but a few,” added Barnett.

Let’s Get Ready helps adults explain to young children ways they can be physically and emotionally prepared for an emergency like Hurricane Sandy. Resources include a free Sesame Street Let’s Get Ready mobile app and an online toolkit with video and downloadable resources for parents, caregivers, educators and children.

Here for Each Other assists adults and children coping with disasters, providing materials that help families talk about what happened, while remaining hopeful for better things to come. Resources include an online toolkit that contains Sesame Street videos, highlighting the importance of asking questions, showing comfort and coping with emotions. Additional downloadable resources include a family and community guide.

The initiatives are aimed at instituting emergency preparedness into families’ routines through tips, strategies, and activities, Lambert said, as well as to prepare families with effective ways to respond when a disaster occurs. “The app and associated materials can be used in the home, as well as the classroom. On January 1 we’re expanding the collaboration with a second phase that will address resiliency, or recovering from a tragedy or disaster,” she said.

Programs like these make financial sense for the company, Lambert said. “There’s a lot of data that show companies do better when they participate in communities,” she said. “The public likes to see it, and shareholders are pleased when their company does the right thing. Just as a healthy balance sheet matters for a business, goodwill and reputation are also important to a company.”

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