The headquarters of Cell Signaling Technology (CST) in Danvers, MA, may confuse first-time visitors. When I visited the company’s campus last summer, I had to check the address to make sure I was entering a biotechnology company and not a spa. The lobby was packed with tropical plants, flowers, running water, koi ponds, and a sign about an Ecochallenge.
When you dig deeper into the company that is known for making antibodies and a panoply of molecular biology kits, the main entrance is apropos because it represents CST’s commitment to sustainability. “It’s ingrained in our culture and values to do the right thing,” notes Anthony Michetti, CST’s Director of Sustainability. “At the end of the day, researchers want an antibody that performs consistently and generates reproducible results. But we also want a healthy planet for our customers and communities.”
I spent a day at CST last summer, with the intent to learn about what “doing the right thing” means to the company. I learned about its dedicated efforts to educate and inspire their employees to make the Earth a better place.
CST’s commitment to giving back and promoting sustainability is evident in several initiatives. There are gardens (one of which is a pollinator garden) and beehives on the headquarters grounds, a Facebook swap-and-shop page to help employees recycle and reuse goods that would otherwise be discarded, and a $10,000 electric vehicle (EV) incentive for employees buying a personal all-electric vehicle. There is also a free lunch option every day, open to any employee (or lucky visitor) who opts for the vegetarian option.
CST has two social events every month. The day I visited, the social was sponsored by CST’s women’s employee resource group, RISE (Represent, Inspire, Empower, Support). It was linked with Women’s Lunch Place—a shelter community for women experiencing homelessness or poverty. CST employees brought in items to donate and make an impact while having fun. In fact, that day, the snack was an ice cream truck sponsored by CST. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the social got underway, but I genuinely wanted to stay. Later, sitting in my (non-EV) car and stuck in traffic, I was struck by the contrast between my idyllic visit to CST and my infernal drive.
Patagonia of life sciences
The sustainability efforts at CST reflect the love of nature demonstrated by Michael Comb, PhD, the company’s president and CEO. When I visited, he had just returned from a trip to a remote area of Canada, where he hiked, fished, and stayed completely offline. Comb’s father was the late Don Comb, PhD, who founded New England Biolabs—another family-founded biotechnology company on the North Shore of Massachusetts with a similar commitment to sustainability.
CST has been giving back and prioritizing sustainability from the time the company started. It consistently makes the Boston Business Journal’s Top 100 Most Charitable Companies in Massachusetts—an unusual achievement for a private, family-owned company. For years, CST avoided trumpeting its good works. But the company started talking about them recently. Why? Not to toot its own horn. Rather, to encourage more companies to follow its lead. There are times when transparency about giving back is a part of giving back.
One percenters of giving
Dave Comb (Michael’s brother) was the first director of corporate social responsibility at CST. He launched the original programs and helped them grow over the past two decades. In 2018, he was succeeded in his position by Krystyna Hincman.
Michetti joined CST as the company’s director of sustainability a few years ago. Tasked with handling CST’s corporate level goals related to emissions, climate, and energy, he quickly began pursuing new partnerships. With one of the partnerships he arranged, he hoped to do more than increase CST’s giving. He wanted CST to set an example that would inspire other biotechnology companies.
The partnership is with One Percent for the Planet, an environmental nonprofit organization through which members contribute at least 1% of their annual revenues to environmental causes. Founded by Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia’s founder) in 2002, the organization is headquartered (predictably) in Burlington, VT.
CST joined One Percent for the Planet in 2022 and considers itself the flagship sponsor for life sciences. It is the first (and likely still the only) life sciences company to be part of the program. “We give 1% of our revenue annually to support people and the planet,” Michetti said. “CST believes that all businesses must be responsible corporate citizens. We want to inspire others across the life sciences industry to take action now.”
Here is how it works: One Percent for the Planet builds a list—and operates a network—of nonprofits that the organization certifies are making the Earth a better place. CST can choose to give to an organization on the list with the confidence that it is a green nonprofit. Alternatively, CST can try to get an organization that it has already supported added to the list. But One Percent for the Planet must certify the organization for it to be added.
In return for including CST in the network, One Percent for the Planet gets 1% of CST’s revenue. CST likes being a member of the initiative and enjoys the peace of mind that at least a percentage of its revenue has been certified as green giving. And the nonprofits get increased visibility through the program.
One of the organizations that CST supports through One Percent for the Planet is My Green Lab, which works to help laboratories create a culture of sustainability. Other organizations include Beyond Benign, a nonprofit that helps educators make green chemistry an integral part of chemistry education, and Seeding Labs, which sends donated laboratory equipment to developing countries.
Green bleeds into every aspect of the work at CST. It reduces the burden of quotidian tasks such as discarding plastic tips in the trash. (Polycarbin is one company that provides a closed-loop solution to scientific plastic waste.) CST also wants to ensure that the new campus that it is building will be as green as possible. The newly proposed R&D facility is set to be built on 40 acres of land that is the site of an old quarry.
“We are going to take this blighted parcel and turn it into a sustainable future campus that revitalizes ecological services and engages employees in innovative, green spaces and buildings,” says Michetti.
The new site, which is called Old Quarry, has its own CST website (www.cstoldquarry.com). According to the website, the sustainable design of CST’s buildings at Old Quarry will “enhance occupant health, engage the surrounding community, protect ecosystems and biodiversity, and combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
CST also emphasizes that it has set a climate goal to achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2029, which is also the year of the company’s 30th anniversary. My guess, after the day I spent watching CST walk the sustainability walk, is that the company will have no problem achieving that goal.