How She Leads: Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Tiffany & Co.

How She Leads

How She Leads: Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Tiffany & Co.

How She Leads is a regular column on GreenBiz spotlighting the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Vice President of Global Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Tiffany & Co.

Costa oversees Tiffany’s corporate responsibility agenda and strategically focused grant-making programs with a $6 million annual budget in environmental conservation and the decorative arts. In Sept. 2010, she was appointed President of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation. A few of the environmental sustainability issues that she works on include coral conservation and urban parks, as well as the promotion of responsible sourcing across the Tiffany & Co. supply chain.

For 175 years, Tiffany & Co. has been one of the most recognized jewelers and jewelry specialty retailers. The company examines almost every level of the supply chain -- from raw material processing to product design and manufacturing to retailing. Since 2010, the company has released public corporate sustainability reports outlining its goals, achievements and challenges. The 2011 report focused on topics such as responsible mining, supplier responsibility, paper and packaging, and carbon and energy footprints.

Albanese: How did you move into your current role?

Costa: I earned my master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs at a time when the financial markets were booming and I followed many of my fellow graduates into banking. I learned a lot, but didn’t feel like I was making a difference. So, I moved into private philanthropy by joining the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which I admired for its focus on making a long-term impact. In 2003, I learned that Tiffany & Co. was setting up a corporate foundation to strategically tie its areas of giving into the core mission and values of the business. I was lucky to join Tiffany at a time when the CEO wanted to invest in CSR and philanthropy.

MA: How has what you studied been applicable to the field in which you work?

AC: When I attended graduate school, there weren’t sustainability degrees like there are today. For me, Columbia’s graduate program in international affairs was perfect, because it teachers you to look at things from a variety of perspectives -- scientific, NGO, business, corporate and government. You’re studying with an international student body that has a variety of interests and viewpoints. This prepared me for multi-stakeholder work on supply chains with issues that cross cultures and politics.

MA: How does your position fit into the overall corporate structure?

AC: I report directly to the Chairman and CEO of the company, and I engage regularly with the board’s CSR committee. The direct, top-line reporting structure and core role that sustainability plays really speak to the long-held values of Tiffany & Co. I also work with all of the internal business units. Oftentimes, it’s individuals within various operating units that are really making the most impact.

Photo of Anisa Costa courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

MA: What are your top responsibilities?

AC: My priorities have evolved. Initially, I was focused on engaging with internal and external stakeholders, formalizing our CSR initiatives, and conducting a materiality analysis. Then, I developed our global CSR metrics program, which remains a major focus. Now, it’s more about setting an agenda for the longer term. Even this is constantly evolving, because things come up and you have to continue to balance both internal and external priorities. It’s a constant learning process.

MA: Do you have a sustainability team? How do you engage employees?

AC: I have a small team that works on the issues where we think the company can make the most impact. That team consists of a sustainability manager and an associate. Our 9,000 employees deserve a lot of credit. They believe in sustainability and the role it plays supporting our brand. Although these individuals do not have “sustainability” in their titles, they play a critical role.

MA: How would you evaluate top-down support for sustainability at Tiffany?

AC: It’s excellent. Our Chairman and CEO, Mike Kowalski, is a visionary and has been active in this field for a quarter of a century. Nearly two decades ago he worked to oppose the construction of the then-proposed “New World Mine” near Yellowstone National Park. That was not a popular stance to take. He is someone who is passionate and knowledgeable on the core issues and knows what’s best for the business and the environment.

MA: Do you work on any programs geared toward women’s issues?

AC: An important component of our supply chain is our focus on preserving economic value in the communities where we operate, so we are supporting families, and that of course includes women. For example, among other countries, we source diamonds from Botswana and are training the local workforce in diamond cutting and polishing, rather than shipping rough stones to another country. This helps ensure that local workers and their families benefit from their country’s diamond resources.

MA: How do you avoid sourcing conflict minerals and “blood diamonds”?

AC: The transparency of our supply chain is of the utmost importance to us. We’re lucky that we’re large enough to vertically integrate and establish our own facilities. In the U.S., we source all of our gold and silver from a single, preexisting mine near Salt Lake City and make the majority of our products in our U.S. manufacturing facilities. Similarly, we have a wholly-owned subsidiary that sources our diamonds, and we have supply chain agreements with specific mines. We have also established our own cutting and polishing facilities in Botswana and Namibia, two of the world’s largest diamond-producing countries. From a jewelry industry perspective, we’re one of the most vertically integrated companies.

MA: What industry standards are being developed for responsible mining?

AC: We hold ourselves to high standards and want to ensure that any universal standards and certification systems being developed are the most stringent possible. Anything less doesn’t help the industry or us. In order to develop the best systems, the right stakeholders need to be at the table, including the scientific community, NGOs, industry, and government. We source Kimberley Process Certified diamonds and are members of the Responsible Jewelry Council. We’re supporting the development of IRMA (Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance) and ARM (Alliance for Responsible Mining), which works at the artisanal level.

MA: What does coral conservation have to do with Tiffany’s business?

AC: In 2002, the company decided to stop selling coral, because we couldn’t verify the supply chain and sustainability of our sourcing. Although it wasn’t a large portion of our assortment, it reflects our sustainability strategy. Coral is an animal, not a plant. The Tiffany & Co. Foundation supports coral conservation, and the company has worked to educate our customer base on the importance of coral to the marine ecosystem. A few years ago we dedicated all of our window displays -- all over the world -- to coral conservation education.

MA: What is one external campaign or project that you are working on?

AC: Tiffany & Co. is actively opposing the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. This mine, if approved, would become one of the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mines. But it would sit at the headwaters of one of the world’s largest salmon fisheries. Along with several senior executives, I have visited Bristol Bay. We’ve met with local communities and spoken with scientists who’ve been researching the potential effects. Although proponents of the mine have the best intentions, we firmly believe that there are certain special places where mining simply shouldn’t take place because of the impact on landscapes, wildlife and the local communities. Bristol Bay is one such place. I’d like to think that our active and vocal stance will make a difference.

MA: What is a continuing challenge you face in your work?

AC: All the various supply chains we work with are incredibly complex. We’re navigating political, social, and economic issues on a global scale. We’re always speaking to such a wide set of audiences, so we have to make language and materials accessible while remaining true to the intricacies.

MA: What are you especially proud of accomplishing in your current role?

AC: I am proud of helping to formalize CSR at Tiffany & Co., and of deepening relationships with stakeholders in the nonprofit sector. I’m also proud of my team, which was instrumental in launching our global CSR metrics program and our annual sustainability reports, which are aligned with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

MA: What advice would you give young professionals interested in working in your field?

AC: Being a voracious reader, an excellent writer and a great communicator are keys to success in this field. I’d encourage university students to acquire hands-on experience through internships. Also, for those who are already working, it’s important to recognize that you can become a real thought leader and change agent on sustainability issues within your existing department or role. If you have the intention to make positive change, you don’t need “sustainability” in your title.