How Sprint Negotiates Sustainability

As director of corporate responsibility at U.S. telecom company Sprint, Amy Hargroves leads a team that’s “all about passion.” Her first task: work with the company’s legal and government affairs teams and address their concerns about risk management. “You can’t ever lead if you only follow the standard course,” she says.

Amy Hargroves exemplifies a certain kind of corporate social responsibility professional: the lifer who has seen enormous change over the decades. Hargroves has spent 30 years at the U.S. telecom company Sprint, in roles that have included managing the Sprint Foundation and being a manager in sales operations. For the last eight years, she has been director of corporate responsibility.

Hargroves’ primary responsibilities are Sprint’s strategy and implementation for CSR. “I oversee what we can do to benefit society and the environment and manage our own footprint, and then get the corporation behind that,” she says. A member of the Association of Climate Change Officers, Hargroves is Sprint’s internal expert on emission reduction initiatives, sustainable product standards and certifications, and building more environmentally responsible supply chains.

Her work has earned the company accolades, including being named the most Eco-Friendly wireless carrier in the United States (by Compass Intelligence), sector leader for mobile telecommunications in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America, and inclusion in the Carbon Disclosure Index Leadership Index with the second highest score (2012).

None of it has come easy. “It’s far easier to say you stand for something good and have it broadly accepted at the surface level, but when you turn what you stand for into actual practices — that’s so much harder,” she says.

In a conversation with David Kiron, executive editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Big Idea Initiative, Hargroves explains how her team gradually learned the best way to partner with the company’s legal and government affairs teams to advocate for green energy, drive the company’s standards for more environmentally friendly cell phones, and develop a “greener” supply chain through practices illustrated in Sprint’s new supplier handbook.

You’ve been in your role eight years. What kinds of challenges have you encountered and overcome in developing effective stakeholder relationships within the company?

There are two books that have been critical to both my success and that of my team members. One of them is Peter Senge’s Necessary Revolution, which is about owning the role of a change agent. That’s my interpretation of it. The second one is Crucial Conversations, which helped teach me the tools of facilitation and change management — the techniques you use to be a change agent.

So, there have been many challenges.