The early roots of CSR were more local, charitable, and almost quaint; however, today CSR is global, strategic, and business critical. Thirty years into my CSR journey, I see business winners advocating fiercely for compassion, inclusion, and transparency in their operations. CSR – it is truly a journey not a destination.
There is a point at which a company's responsibilities to society are so deeply aligned with its responsibilities to investors and employees that there is no meaningful distinction between business strategy and CSR.
CSR strategy at its best is essentially a public accounting of a company’s commitment to “the triple-bottom-line” – its people, its profitability, and the planet. Did we grow our people? Did we make money? Did we help or hurt the planet? This is the “triple-bottom-line” measurement of genuine success. For such purpose-driven organizations, CSR is the critical avenue through which each company’s purpose gains expression.
The rising consumer class of Millennials numbered 2 billion in 20172 according to the Pew Charitable Trust, and as they consume, they are sharing their experiences, learning from and supporting each other, and recognizing the fundamental importance of empathy and responsibility. They form the foundation of the Caring Economy and CSR is the essential channel for engaging them. The Millennial generation (those born between roughly 1981 and 1997) now constitutes the largest adult demographic in history, and numerous surveys show Millennials have an overwhelming preference for employment at socially responsible companies. They are also among the large majority of consumers who say they are willing to pay more for sustainably produced goods and services. As older generations have passed along, the percentage of consumers who prefer sustainable goods has been climbing steadily.
For makers of consumer products, CSR is a vital source of pricing power required for maintaining profitability. A company that is socially responsible is a company built for long-term sustainable success. Typically, sustainability goals for organizations are broken into three broad categories of concern: environmental, social, and governance, known as ESG.
Leaders of the profitable corporations in the Caring Economy will be those who understand that company stakeholders expect them to be socially responsible, transparent, and accountable.
CSR ends when everyone in the company exercises CSR reflexively each day because, for that company, social responsibility is synonymous with fiscal responsibility and sustainable long-term growth.
Great Brands Are Purpose Driven
1.1. Seek mission alignment: the key to beginning and sustaining your CSR effort is to set goals and objectives that are very strongly aligned with the mission and business goals already embraced by the organization’s leadership. these companies pursues CSR in ways that are highly relevant to its industry, its customers, and their communities. The United Nations has a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, known as SDGs.
1.2. Assess Your Existing CSR for Quick Wins: Many companies that do not have CSR programs nonetheless exercise social responsibility by other names, by sharing their expertise on a philanthropic basis. One reliable resource to consult as you begin is The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an independent international standards organization that helps businesses, governments, and other organizations take stock of their CSR impact. A second resource tailored for investors is the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), a U.S.-based non-profit that develops and promotes accounting standards for sustainability, much like FASB (the Financial Accounting Standards Board) promotes accounting principles for financial reporting.
1.3. Make your SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Another very practical way to shake out your short-term triple-bottom-line points of emphasis is to undertake a standard SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Which items represent your company’s strengths, where brand alignment might make a powerful statement? Think of Intel’s use of its technology to empower more people to innovate and harnessing its data to address society’s most complex issues – from climate change to energy efficiency to economic empowerment and human rights.
Which items represent some of your company’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, where attention needs to be paid to avoid potential problems with customers and other stakeholders?
Which items represent clear opportunities, where positive action is most likely to attract employee engagement, leverage the capabilities of company suppliers, and attract strategic partners outside the organization?
Which items represent areas of threat to the organization, where a lack of CSR attention in a particular area might put the company at a serious competitive disadvantage?
1.4. Go on a listening tour: when it comes to CSR, “Management never knows what it wants but will like what you get.” Building a CSR platform involves a mix of “tenacity and finesse” says Andrea Sullivan. People want to be engaged but you need to find what resonates for them.
1.5. Define your terms. My advice then and now has always been to get out on the table the various concepts that CSR may connote for colleagues, and never assume that everyone sees CSR the same way.
1.6. Create a CSR culture
CSR Beginner’s Checklist
Mission Alignment: Get support from the top. Set your initial goals and objectives so they are strongly aligned with the mission and business goals already embraced by the organization’s leadership.
Quick Wins: Pick the low-hanging fruit. Identify existing efforts and fold them into your CSR story.
SWOT Analysis: Plan your efforts based on your analysis of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Term Definitions: From the start, get out on the table the various concepts that CSR may connote for colleagues, and never assume that everyone sees CSR the same way.
Listening Tour: Test market your thoughts with colleagues and listen for feedback and fresh perspectives. All this early research and analysis will pay off later when you need to make a case for CSR funding and other resources with your organization’s top decision-makers.
Company Culture: Seek CSR opportunities that are best aligned with the company’s culture and can contribute to strengthening it. Look for socially responsible initiatives that express your organization’s agreed-upon brand values.
Building your CSR Platform
LEGO’s distinction as the world’s most powerful brand. Company’s mission through three ambitious ESG objectives. These three ESG objectives gave birth to a series of strategic initiatives. These initiatives have been crucial in LEGO’s turnaround by integrating CSR directly into its business operations. You and your company can take a page of the LEGO playbook by working to interpret your company’s mission statement and business goals through a similar CSR lens.
2.1. Building consensus and Support: Sierra Club implemented sustainability program can contribute three major strategies to an organization: “a bottom-line strategy to save costs, a top-line strategy to reach a new consumer base, and a talent strategy to get, keep, and develop creative employees.” Your CSR program follow four keys of branding success, as outlined by the Interbrand consulting group: clarity, commitment, responsiveness, and governance. Be clear about what CSR means for your organization. As the CSR platform launches and develops, you will need to remain in campaign mode, always reaching out, creating new initiatives, and delivering updates to attract still more momentum for CSR. Demonstrate and communicate your commitment. Simply Googling “CSR Resources” will provide you with some of the most current and frequented sources. Make responsiveness a top priority. Nurture support from the top of the organization. Keep your top contacts in the company informed, involved and consulted. When company leadership is missing, it is too easy for CSR to take on the aura of a “nice to have” exercise, and not the mission-critical, brand-building, employee-morale boosting enterprise that it can be.
2.2. Strategy execution: Support existing activities. Start small and allow colleagues to pick up your tune. Put your money where your mouth is.
2.3. The power of networking with CSR colleagues: The professional listening tour. Start your own CSR association. Convene and Connect
3.1. Employees – The Bullseye: Particularly among younger employees, there is a belief that CSR is something the employer should provide, no different than any other item in their benefits package. It is good for team building, fostering a shared sense of purpose and overall morale. At its best, CSR makes a difference, and in doing so, makes employees feel better about themselves, their colleagues and their employer. In everything you do, using social media platforms from Facebook to Instagram to WeChat is essential to your success with CSR campaigns. As numbers of Millennials and younger digital natives increasingly predominate in the workplace,
3.2. Customers – The Middle Ring of the Bullseye: They like companies that make them feel good about associating with them. Authenticity and caring to make a difference need to be part of your company culture.
3.3 The Outer Ring of the Bullseye: Community and the World: We believe it is important to regularly review our stakeholder identification process,” says John Cheh, Vice Chairman and CEO of at Esquel Group, the textile manufacturer. “It is about building relationships that share common values and creating synergy.” Esquel’s broad list of stakeholders include the Fair Labor Association, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and all the suppliers, communities, and regulatory agencies that they are involved with.
The broadest, most inclusive business alliance promoting CSR globally is the UN Global Compact. All 13,000 member CEOs and their employees have signed on to principles-driven business practices that grow their enterprises while pursuing the United Nations’ list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.19
Iterate: The question is, how to try again, how to re-think, re-adjust or take a new path.
4.1. No workplace is perfect
4.2. Volunteering ups and downs
4.3. Learn from others’ mistakes: the risks of combining CSR with marketing (greenwashing, clumsy advertising, product gimmickry, awkward corporate donations or off-message sponsorships).
4.4 Never Stop Taking Chances: Measure What is Material. “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” – Jack Welch
5.1. Measuring CSR Impact
For other CSR projects, you can begin the task of measuring and tracking them with the help of KPIs related to these four basic measures: Inputs Outputs Outcomes Impacts
Basically, a CSR outcome is about your company. A CSR impact is about your stakeholder. For instance, if your company installs high-efficiency lighting as a part of a sustainable energy initiative, the reduced dollars spent on electricity is an outcome. The avoided pounds greenhouse gases entering the environment is the impact.
5.2. Integrated ESG Reporting
Leading companies have responded by moving toward ESG reporting that is integrated with their financial reporting. More than 8,000 companies globally are using GRI to share the results of their CSR efforts alongside of their financial reporting. A sound approach is to use GRI to identify the key drivers that would appear in your company’s report, and then take note of what public companies in your industry or sector are doing along these lines. An enormous library of GRI reports is available for review at the UN Global Compact website (UNGC.org).
5.3. Communicating Your Results
The UN Global Compact has developed an exceptionally useful online tool called the Value Driver Model, which can help you assess and communicate the financial impact of your CSR strategies. The model uses common business metrics to illustrate how corporate sustainability activities contribute to overall company performance in three basic areas:
Growth – Revenue growth from sustainability-advantaged products, services, and strategies.
Productivity – Total annual cost savings (and avoided costs) from sustainability-driven productivity initiatives.
Risk Management – Sustainability-related reductions in risk-exposure that might otherwise impair the company’s performance.
5.4. The rise of the ratings
5.5. How CSR metrics can shake the World: industry or within its community, it is worth considering how you can extend the use of your internal metrics for the common good, and enhance your reputation among some of your most important customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. As CSR becomes increasingly easier to measure and compare from one company to the next, socially irresponsible companies will find it increasingly difficult to remain viable in the Caring Economy. The Campaign is Ongoing
6.1. The future of work: Millennials and Generation Z are career nomads willing to move to another job if they do not feel their workplace offers them a sense of purpose and treats employees fairly. The term “holacracy” has emerged to describe a form of organization that is both “holistic” and “democratic” in its power structure. Quoting Darwin’s Origin of Species, Hsieh points out, “It’s not the fastest or strongest that survive. It’s the ones most adaptive to change.”
6.2. The future of commerce
6.3. The future of governance: On its website, the B-Team explains the origin of its name: “Plan A – where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone – is no longer acceptable. It’s time for Plan B.” by the 2016 “Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance,” issued by an ad hoc group of U.S. business leaders, including JPMorgan, Berkshire Hathaway, Verizon, Vanguard, and BlackRock. The full list of principles is available at www.GovernancePrinciples.org.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was once a somewhat rarified, high-end discipline.
7.1. Aim High
7.2. Declare Your Values
7.3. Rethink Your Culture
7.4. Raise the Bar
7.5. Invest in People: “At Esquel, we do not see CSR as a defensive strategy, in reaction to international criticism of working conditions in regions with low cost labor. Rather, we would like to set a positive example and prove that a company can be both profitable and committed to sustainability and worker welfare.
7.6. Break Boundaries
7.7. Share What You Know: Go Open Source
7.8. Partner for Progress: A CSR program that is limited to philanthropic giving misses out on truly participating in the Caring Economy.
7.9. Imagine New Paradigms
7.10. See Your Evangelist in the Mirror: The trends are your friends. Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” It all matters in the Caring Economy. Doing the right thing, by the way, means doing it before it is expected of you. There is no constant in this new world except change.