What is CSR? How is CSR a way to “Do Good” in today’s world?
I have had a wonderful experience creating and executing a corporate social responsibility initiative for a global consumer products company where our vision and purpose was to improve the oral health of children and their families around the world. After several decades of concerted effort, this CSR initiative was able to reach over 1 billion children with important oral health messages and for many, provide oral-health services.
So, what is CSR? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is what businesses do through self-regulation with the goal of social accountability whereby contributing to the well-being of their communities and the society that they affect or depend on. Many company initiatives are set up to positively impact the public, the environment or the economy on a local stage or a global arena. Employees, customers, and investors place a high value on working for or investing in businesses that prioritize CSR.
While many more companies are establishing CSR initiatives, having a socially conscious image is becoming more the norm than the exception. Consumers, employees, and other stakeholders are choosing companies or brands that are effecting social change. Companies look at CSR as an opportunity to show their good corporate citizenship while being conscious of the societal and environmental aspects that may surround the company as they do business. CSR can be beneficial by improving a company’s brand image. Customers or consumers who see evidence of social responsibility respond positively to that company and its products. CSR can also help improve employee morale. Companies that have a clear CSR effort and invest resources into socially responsible behavior tend to have higher sustained morale among its employees.
Research by Cone Communications stated that more than “90% of consumers surveyed shared that they would purchase a product because the company supported an issue that they cared about.” (Business News Daily, July 2021.) Not only are consumers responsive to corporate social responsibility, for top talent, an important factor in choosing where to work is a company’s sustainability strategy. The next generation of employees are interested in what company’s are doing to improve their world including people, planet, and revenue. Company’s who want to succeed in this new world are seriously encouraged to take from profits and give back to the communities they serve.
What are key CSR areas that companies focus their Efforts?
- Environmental: This may include actions that address the environmental footprint that a company may leave. Other examples may include sustainability initiatives that reduce waste or emissions, increase investments in employee working conditions, health care, education, etc. which in turn may increase company productivity, retention or provide a positive reputation.
- Philanthropy: Businesses donate money, services or products to social causes and non-profit organizations. This can range from medical services to food and products donations as a community, national or global outreach. Both large and small businesses can have an impact no matter how small.
- Ethical labor practices: Ethical labor practices are important for companies for their business in the US, and most critical for those who work globally where policies and practices may be inequitable and labor laws may differ from those in the US.
- Volunteering: Businesses have set up opportunities for employees and key stakeholders to work together volunteering their services to help others. By doing good collaborating with community-based organizations, health services groups and more, companies do demonstrate their values and commitment to make a difference for those who are most vulnerable or in most need.
What can companies and others do to have a successful CSR initiative?
The first step is to create a CSR strategy that aligns with the company’s purpose, identity, brand, and values. Too often businesses set up multiple CSR programs that are poorly coordinated and the impact is diluted. It is important to reduce aspects of the initiative that do not address the social issues that are most relevant to the company’s purpose and values. An example of such is where a food operations group might want to work with a local food pantry for food donations instead of setting up a blood donation program for employees.
Gauging the success of the CSR initiative requires understanding the output or outcome that is expected from the initiative. A philanthropic program most likely will not provide increased revenue for the business. Instead, the success of a philanthropic program can be measured by nonfinancial output such as employee hours spent, educational benefits from donations, i.e., volume of materials provided to children, improvement of school performance, etc. Partnering with other stakeholders, such as non-profit groups who are most familiar with their own social needs, can help companies better measure the social impact within a philanthropic space.
The success of environmental CSR initiatives is often aligned with the company’s business goals and targets. This might include an analysis of energy and waste reduction; improvement of air or water quality programs and reduction of carbon emissions can impact their top or bottom line. These details are often shared in corporate sustainability reports with annual targets for environmental improvements supported through a business effort.
Tracking the success of CSR programs is a critical component of managing these programs whether the outcome is robust or gradual making minimal strides toward the goals of the initiatives. This enables judgement as to whether the business investment has produced the desired societal gains.
What is your company’s purpose? How can CSR play a role in helping you or your company make a difference in your community, in your world?
It is important to understand your company’s purpose and values to best define the societal focus that your business wants to pursue. It is also important to reflect the business operation and motivation of the people who staff, run, and govern the company. A manufacturing company may want to reduce its environmental impact whereas a financial services institution may do better by focusing on supporting financial literacy and inclusion. Likewise, doing business in a country that may lack provisions of food and water may strategically align best with a CSR program that provides philanthropic funding to support clean water or farming to reduce food insufficiencies and produce revenue for local farmers.
Understanding what your company’s purpose is helps to best know whether you want to have a shared value CSR initiative or to create more value for society through the efforts of your corporation. One thing is in common either way that the CSR strategy is aligned with the companies’ business purpose, the values of the company, engagement with important stakeholders and the needs of the communities in which the company operate.
Some actions that I found helpful as I established a long-standing CSR initiative were:
1) Involve your employees in the decision-making and execution of the initiative.
2) Utilize internal teams to lead the program in their regions. Passionate employees bring engagement and excitement to the effort while bringing clarity and assurance to your team.
3) Communicate to your consumers, customers, and investors the purpose, intent, and progress of your CSR initiative. This excites existing and future consumers, customers, and employees about the CSR effort, bringing a positive image and reputation.
4) Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that demonstrate the success and social impact over time.
5) Make the CSR initiative a win-win for everyone – the company, the consumer, the customer and the community.
Businesses today are seeing the value of CSR initiatives whether philanthropic, environmental, and societal focused. Today, CSR initiatives are often integrated with business priorities and work hard to help position the company favorably with key stakeholders and investors. A properly implemented CSR initiative can bring so many advantages to the company and to the community they target including enhanced access to capital and markets, increased sales and profits, operational cost savings, improved productivity and quality, efficient human resource base, improved brand image and reputation, enhanced customer loyalty, better decision making and risk management approaches.
I had an exciting opportunity to work for a company that made their CSR initiative a business priority helping billions of families globally while creating a shared value for the company, the many stakeholders and employees that made it happen. What do you want to see happen at your company as it relates to corporate social responsibility? What can you do to help your company or organization “do well while doing good?”