Steve Schmida, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Resonance Global, Discusses Corporate Sustainability Policy

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on July 1, 2021

Corporate sustainability, social responsibility, environmental stewardship and similar lofty phrases have emerged as touchstones in corporate jargon in recent years, much to the relief of some but also to the skepticism of others. Steve Schmida, founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Resonance Global, has been at the forefront of corporate sustainability and global development since before those terms were the agreed upon names for those activities. His recent book, explores how businesses, particularly those operating in emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Latin American and the former Soviet bloc nations, can effectively partner with foundations, nonprofits, government agencies, and community organizations to address “wicked” problems such as climate change, environmental degradation and the myriad other harms that are too big for any single entity to tackle.

Schmida has worked in at least 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East to engage the private sector to solve tough social, environmental and economic problems in the world’s emerging markets. We asked Schmida for his thoughts on what the the pandemic has taught American companies about social responsibility and corporate sustainability, and how ordinary people can tell sincere effort from marketing and greenwashing.

You’ve worked in corporate sustainability since before that term was corporate jargon. How did you get into the field to begin with?

I was a Russian literature major in college and set up to be gainfully unemployed when the Soviet Union collapsed, creating new opportunities as that part of the world opened up. I ended up working in Central Asia and later in Russia for 8 years on international development projects. During my time in Russia, I began hearing from companies that were facing challenges – environmental, social and community- that they could not solve on their own. They needed the help of governments and nonprofits to solve these huge problems. That started me down the road of working in corporate sustainability and led me to founding the company that is now Resonance.

How has corporate thinking about social responsibility and sustainability changed over the past 25 years?

There has been an enormous shift in mindsets over the last couple of decades. Twenty years ago to the extent companies were focusing on social and environmental issues, it was largely under the guise of corporate social responsibility, and was handled by the marketing or PR team. Gradually, industry by industry, companies began to realize that this approach was not terribly effective or impactful. This realization led to the emergence of corporate sustainability, which is much more focused on improving core company operations to minimize negative environmental and social impacts.

If we look at where we are today, a growing number of companies are starting to come to the conclusion that sustainability is not separate from corporate strategy – it is an integral component of strategy. This trend will only continue to accelerate. Put simply, corporate sustainability will be the single most significant secular business trend of the next 30 years.

How has the growing realization that climate change is already a crisis affected corporate policies on social responsibility and sustainability?

Climate change looms large in many industries and has forced companies to rethink not just their policies, but also to reconsider their business models. If you are leading a company with a large carbon footprint and you are not actively taking steps to reduce that footprint, you are opening your business to a significant future risk. What’s more, the pressure for change is coming from a variety of directions – investors, consumers, employers and regulators.

Has the pandemic changed how corporations see WFH and virtual meetings as tools for shrinking their carbon footprint?

Yes. I think many companies (my own included-) are seeing work from home and virtual meetings as an important tool for reducing carbon footprints. Some estimates suggest that business travel will be reduced by 30% or more going forward now that companies have realized how much work can be done virtually.

It seems one corporation or another is always announcing a new initiative regarding sustainability and social responsibility. How can people distinguish genuine effort from greenwashing?

A key way to distinguish genuine effort from greenwashing is to take a look at the corporation in question and see if there is really a plan in place to achieve results. Too often, CEOs get up on the stage and make big corporate sustainability commitments at Davos or other global forums, but there is no plan in place to execute. Sustainability is really hard – it requires a coordinated effort across a company- so having an achievable plan with clear, measurable metrics and transparency on performance are key.

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Peter Page is an Editor-at-Large at Grit Daily. He is available to record live, old-school style interviews via Zoom, and run them at Grit Daily and Apple News, or BlockTelegraph for a fee.Formerly at, he began his journalism career as a newspaper reporter long before print journalism had even heard of the internet, much less realized it would demolish the industry. The years he worked as a police reporter are a big influence on his world view to this day. Page has some degree of expertise in environmental policy, the energy economy, ecosystem dynamics, the anthropology of urban gangs, the workings of civil and criminal courts, politics, the machinations of government, and the art of crystallizing thought in writing.

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