Corporate Social Responsibility: What Everyone’s Thinking, But Not Saying
Let’s talk corporate culture. Not about how a strong culture pays (though we’ll get into that in a moment), but the importance of companies leveraging their core competencies for common good.
If you follow the news or check any of your social feeds, you’ll see that companies frequently emerge to participate in charitable acts or socially responsible initiatives. In the summer, for example, a team may clean up a beach to advocate for environmental awareness. Around the holidays, we’ll find many companies’ employees volunteering at homeless shelters to give back to their communities. Every April 22, companies around the world do their part to help the environment as part of #EarthDay. Perhaps your organization is one of them.
Any charitable act is always a good one. However, the one-and-done approach severely misses the mark. We tend to see organizations carving out one or two charitable events per quarter to carry them through the year, but just how many are driven by something they’re passionate about? How many can say their employees work together as a community of caring individuals to support a greater good? This concept of acting for the benefit of society at large—known as corporate social responsibility (CSR)—drastically differs from an isolated, albeit well-intentioned, act of charity.
The concept of CSR is simple yet radical: companies have a moral obligation to use their market value to advance society beyond what’s simply required of them. Consider, for example, a technology services provider that equips classrooms with next-gen communication and collaboration tools to amplify learning. Taking it a step further, employees could visit these same classrooms at the start of every school year to show each new group of students how to maximize use of the solutions.
The bottom line is this: CSR must be tightly woven into every company’s fabric, rather than a single activity that’s only temporarily rallied around. It must be a unified approach to creating lifelong impact; it’s a mindset adopted by all. CSR is more than donating a percentage of annual earnings or implementing a day of greener business operations. It’s a duty that every individual from the top down should perform. It requires the giving of time and energy, both individually and collectively, for causes cared about. This isn’t always easy or convenient, yet this is the principle of CSR: to look beyond ourselves in pursuit of the greater good.
Consider British cosmetics retailer Lush, which has been using its products for more than 20 years to boldly fight for the protection of people, animals and the planet. The company sells some of its products “naked,” meaning there’s no packaging or wrapping involved at all. According to the company, just one consumer consistently buying “naked” can save more than 30 plastic bottles from entering landfills each year. The organization also develops custom products (like its Charity Pot lotion) and donates 100% of the price to grassroots organizations working in areas of environmental conservation, animal welfare and human rights. From bullying to fur trapping to LGBTQ rights, the company actively works for several causes it cares deeply about.
Often, customers will go out of their way to do business with brands that embody strong and evolving CSR. A 2015 study of 10,000 consumers, for example, found that 90% will switch to brands that support responsible causes, while 71% are willing to pay more for socially responsible goods and services. It’s no wonder Lush consistently outperforms year over year (Lush saw a 26% increase in sales from 2014 to 2015 alone).
But this doesn’t apply to companies with a one-and-done approach. Consider that more than half of customers today won’t even believe a company’s CSR initiatives until they have proof. And this number is even higher among millennials—81% expect their favorite companies to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship. This is why leading brands like Starbucks, Google and TOMS publish annual versions of Global Responsibility or Giving reports to show they’re delivering on their CSR promises.
So, how can more brands start making CSR part of their organizational DNA? All it takes is one person working to embody CSR into the personality of the organization. CSR starts with everyday employees driving the initiative to spend time on socially responsible activities, whatever they may be. Just as important is the willingness of leadership to support and even join these employees. This collective-action approach is strongly promoted at companies like Nestle, Rolex, and LEGO, all which were ranked by Forbes as brands with the best CSR reputations in 2016.
CSR is no light matter, and organizations are beginning to grasp this fact. In fact, 64% of CEOs surveyed last year said that CSR is now core to their business, rather than being a standalone program.
Every organization should be leveraging its value for the greater good not just for one day, one week, or one month, but on a continual basis. In the spirit of the recently-celebrated Earth Day, I challenge you to think about the true value of CSR and how your organization can push further. Our communities are counting on our commitment.