Corporate social responsibility is a standard practice followed by many companies across the globe. Activities or initiatives under this category have changed many faces partly because of business demands, lack of understanding of this sector and due to unrealistic expectations from these activities.
I remember my Corporate Social Responsibility Professor in my post-graduate studies, once explained, “If you want to be a successful CSR practitioner in today’s corporate world, then you need to show monetary value of the activities to the business owners while ensuring benefits to the society”.
Examples of effective CSR initiatives
Many examples highlighted in the book, ‘The Market for Virtue’ by David Vogel help in understanding those CSR initiatives that benefit the society at large while improving operational standards of the business:
“Nike, along with numerous other American and European firms that produce or sell apparel, footwear, sporting equipment, and toys, monitors working conditions in its supplier factories in developing countries.
Ikea requires its rug suppliers in India to prohibit the employment of children and provides families with financial assistance to help keep their children out of the labor market.
Starbucks, as well as many other major coffee distributors and retailers, sells coffee bearing the Fair-Trade label, which guarantees coffee producers an above-world-market price for their products.
Home Depot, along with major retailers of wood products in the United States and Europe, no longer sells products harvested from old growth or endangered forests.”
The cases show us that not every CSR activity needs to have a direct impact on revenue. In fact, most of them are difficult to quantify in terms of return on investment.
What is the main goal of Corporate Social Responsibility?
‘The Truth About CSR’, an article in the Harvard Business Review, well explains CSR’s main goal, “… to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and values. If in doing so, CSR activities mitigate risks, enhance reputation, and contribute to business results, that is all to the good”.
Going back to what my professor said, the CSR practitioner can make a business case for CSR, but should not forget the main goal. The public and stakeholders are a very informed group and transparency in communication becomes critical in displaying the company’s true intentions with CSR.
The Volkswagen debacle is a prime example of a company trying to earn business results in the guise of CSR. Aptly captured in a Forbes’ article titled, ‘Volkswagen and the Failure of Corporate Social Responsibility’:
“The company deliberately set out to design a means to circumvent emissions control—a stratagem known at the highest levels—with the aim of giving the company an unfair advantage over its competitors that made it the world’s number one car maker, in large part on the basis of its supposedly environmentally friendly cars; meanwhile it was poisoning the planet.”
How can effective communications help a CSR practitioner?
While it is the responsibility of the corporate to focus on the main goal of CSR, at PR Associates, we understand that many companies are reluctant to promote the work they do in communities and to manage their environmental footprint for fear of it being labeled as “greenwashing.
While companies need to be strategic and sensitive about how to communicate their CSR activities, they should also consistently share stories about corporate citizenship, whether it’s a community investment or the strict standards applied to environmental controls. It’s as much about building and maintaining the reputational value and building trust, as it is about managing risk.
Effective communication builds trust and perceptions, and they are essential in today’s world to gain necessary public and stakeholder support.
We are experts in story-telling who can help you not only garner impactful media stories but also train you to be effective communicators to help build your company’s reputation and gain public trust for the organization.