Tam Nguyen is the global head of sustainability for Bechtel corporation, an international engineering and construction company. He directs the overall formulation and implementation of Bechtel’s sustainability strategy and integration process across the enterprise and into major projects. He also leads corporate initiatives, stakeholder and policy planning on a range of global issues, including climate change, human rights, and economic development. Mr. Nguyen serves as vice-chair of the corporate responsibility committee of the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), and executive officer of Chevron’s Niger Delta Partnership Initiative Foundation. Prior to joining Bechtel, he was manager for corporate responsibility at Chevron Corporation where he developed and directed the implementation of Chevron’s human rights policy and served as the principal advisor to senior executives, business units, and functions on managing corporate responsibility issues and international standards. Concurrently he chaired the social responsibility working group of IPEICA, an international oil and gas association in London. Earlier in his career he worked for the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the Philippines and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, DC. Educated in the United States, Europe, and Asia, he is a graduate of George Washington University, and holds a doctorate in business administration and two masters’ degrees in international business and international development.
Christopher P. Skroupa: How do you see corporate sustainability standards evolving over the next five years?
Tam Nguyen: There are roughly 500 global sustainability standards (hard and soft standards); around one-third are now being driven by stock exchanges and financial markets. What we are seeing is that the market is increasingly valuating corporate sustainability performance. The evolution of standards will continue on this trajectory.
Skroupa: What recent technological trends do you feel are impacting sustainability?
Nguyen: There are many and it can vary by industry. I see big data and analytics advancing how we manage sustainability impacts and outcomes. In our industry, for example, predictive analytical models connected with engineering software can forecast potential sustainability impacts and implications, including water consumption, energy use, waste reduction in ways never done before. We are also starting to see opportunities to apply analytics to prevent the scourge of modern day slavery in global supply chains. These technologies may change the profile of corporate sustainability professionals in the future to include competencies in data design, applied analysis, and communicating the analysis to complex organizational systems to make them actionable.
Skroupa: In your experience, do you feel technology supports sustainability in global industries more successfully now? Do you feel they will improve going forward?
Nguyen: As I highlighted earlier, technology like data and analytics is bringing science to improve decision-making on sustainability. As technology expands and progresses, corporate sustainability leaders and professionals will need to keep pace and learn how to apply this to their own function. It can make the function leaner, smarter, and innovative, which can bring greater value to the company and its customers and other stakeholders. Sustainability is one of the biggest drivers of innovation today and into the future—they are two sides of the same coin.
Skroupa: Why is sustainability so crucial to risk management, and do you feel that importance is increasing under the current political environment? When aligning sustainability with risk management strategy, what do you feel is the greatest challenge?
Nguyen: Multinational companies increasingly recognize the need to improve their security of access, including natural resources, water, energy, and people. These are sustainability challenges and business imperatives, but also opportunities. They are reconfiguring business models and investing in enterprise innovation and entrepreneurship. In large, complex business organizations, one of the biggest challenges is making the business case internally and to multiple audiences. Sustainability leaders who fail to understand the fluid, competing priorities of the company and individual functions, as well as the relevant connections between external trends and internal business drivers will fail to align sustainability to risk management in a comprehensive way.
Skroupa: Considering your role as Global Head of Sustainability, what challenges have you encountered meeting—and ideally, exceeding—sustainability standards across jurisdictions?
Nguyen: We have conducted our own internal analysis of how sustainability is affecting our markets and customers in multiple business lines, countries and regions. Sustainability issues can vary starkly across these dimensions. A key opportunity continues to be developing the “contextual intelligence” of our colleagues in order to make the right decisions and apply the right tools, practices and approaches in different locations and under changing circumstances to generate the best sustainable outcomes. New technologies, like predictive analytics, can enhance these decision processes.