Today’s leaders arguably assume more responsibility than they’ve ever had before. Yes, they need to run a business and operate it successfully to make a profit. They must also do right by their range of stakeholders, including investors, customers, their community, employees, partners and more.
In addition, leaders are now looked at to establish strategic policies that extend far beyond the walls of their offices and reverberate throughout the community, nation and even world. These policies are referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR)—and such business models are becoming more commonplace.
Below, we dig deeper into what corporate social responsibility is and why it’s becoming increasingly crucial for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
WHAT IS CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY?
Simply put, corporate social responsibility is the concept of companies and organizations making a dedicated effort to incorporate social and environmental best practices into their day-to-day operations and overarching business planning to contribute to the well-being of communities and greater society.
Ideally, firms would incorporate such measures without considerable impact on their viability or profitability. CSR can also play a key role in overall brand perception, thus influencing investors, business relationships and even job applications. In fact, according to a study from Porter Novelli, nearly 90 percent of consumers indicated that they believe businesses need to be doing more than not only striving to make a profit but also positively impacting society. As “corporate social responsibility” becomes more of a buzz phrase in the coming years, the importance of developing and adhering to a policy for brands is only likely to increase in significance.
Read on to learn more about the pillars of CSR, renowned companies that have developed robust policies, challenges in adopting CSR and more.
PILLARS OF CSR
There are several major pillars of corporate social responsibility, and many firms set a strategy that incorporates them. Here is an overview of each:
Companies go into business to offer a product or service and make a profit. But CSR involves making some financial sacrifices to ensure fair and just business practices, even if there’s an effect on the bottom line. Economic CSR revolves around making financial decisions—and, in some cases, sacrifices—to further the commitment to doing good. These initial financial sacrifices can sometimes lead to increased profitability and employee/brand loyalty down the road. Examples of economic CSR include:
- Charitable giving to build communities and just causes
- Investing in clean, renewable energy sources
- Supporting educational programs and initiatives
- Committing to diversity, equity and inclusion in all business practices
A big part of CSR is operating legally and ethically. It involves not just obeying local, regional and national laws but also operating fairly. Failure to do so can result in citations and carries the potential for lawsuits, poor publicity and monetary fines.
To piggyback off the legal pillar of CSR, a business should be operating ethically, too. In other words, it must take proper action to ensure that it’s running fairly and always “doing the right thing.” Some examples of ethical CSR involve:
- Sourcing from suppliers who have like-minded CSR goals and initiatives
- Treating all shareholders, customers and employees fairly
- Engaging in fair trade practices
From organizing fundraisers for charitable or nonprofit organizations to establishing a foundation as a division of a company, philanthropic CSR involves giving back to the communities or causes important to a firm’s people. Such philanthropy may involve volunteering, monetary donations, product or service donations, company match programs for individual charitable donations and more.
With sustainability becoming increasingly critical, the environmental pillar of CSR involves the actions a firm can take to reduce its carbon footprint and positively contribute to the well-being of the environment. Some examples of CSR environmental initiatives involve:
- Recycling programs to reduce waste in landfills
- Adopting renewable energy sources to power offices
- Conducting energy audits to ensure buildings are more energy-efficient
- Electrifying vehicle fleets
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY EXAMPLES
Numerous companies are leading the way when it comes to CSR policies and governance in one or more of the aforementioned pillars. Here’s what some of the world’s leading firms are doing when it comes to CSR:
Bosch has established itself as much more than just an engineering and technology company, but as a noted community builder. In 2011, Bosch established a community fund to support various philanthropic efforts, specifically related to STEM education and environmental sustainability. The fund awards up to $5 million per year in grants and has invested more than $36 million into such causes since its inception.
Like many global companies, Bosch is also focused on environmental sustainability. It publishes an annual sustainability report to hold itself accountable and track the progress it has made as an organization.
From using recycled materials to make its cans and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles to replenishing water that’s used in its beverages, Coca-Cola has worked hard on environmental sustainability initiatives as part of its CSR strategy. The corporate giant has set to make all its packaging recyclable by the year 2025 as well as smaller in size to reduce waste to landfill and promote a healthier overall product. Coca-Cola has also launched a variety of social initiatives to help support its drive for environmental stewardship.
The company is checking the boxes on other CSR pillars with other initiatives, too, which include:
- Developing sustainability programs designed to influence the behavior of Millennials.
- Partnering with (RED) to raise awareness for mother-to-child AIDS transmission.
- Empowering women by committing to promote more women to be a part of the supply chain.
One of LEGO’s most significant CSR pillars is that of environmental stewardship—particularly its commitment to building more products from sustainable materials and investing in environmentally friendly packaging to curb global emissions and slow the pace of climate change.
LEGO has also established various responsible business principles, especially as it pertains to sourcing materials. For instance, it only works with suppliers that eliminate hard break during audits and only do business with like-minded partners related to ethics, people, children and the environment. Additionally, LEGO is a member of the ICTI Ethical Toy Program, a responsible sourcing program designed to safeguard ethics and sustainability in the worldwide toy industry supply chain.
Johnson & Johnson
The main CSR pillars to which Johnson & Johnson commits are environmental and philanthropic. As a champion of global health equality, J&J has pledged to provide eye health services to underserved communities around the world via its Sight for Kids program. J&J also has committed to environmental sustainability, specifically through reducing its carbon footprint by using more renewable energy solutions, limiting its use of natural resources and optimizing product packaging to reduce waste.
Similar to many global firms, Google is another major company that is upping its dedication to the environment and sustainable business practices. Now in its third decade of commitment to climate action, Google is aiming to become a net-zero emissions firm across all its offices by the year 2030. Underscoring this initiative is Google’s drive to power its data centers and campuses with 100 percent clean energy.
In addition, Google has never been shy about taking a stand on social issues, no matter how controversial public perception may be.
WHY IS CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY IMPORTANT?
There are numerous reasons why a robust CSR strategy makes sense:
- Enhancing brand image and reputation– CSR is largely about positively impacting communities and society; plus, doing so can put your brand on the map or help it shine in a new, positive light.
- Attracting and retaining talent– People want to work for respectable companies. Per a Porter Novelli study, up to 95 percent of employees who work for companies with purpose are likely to be more loyal to the employer. This can result in talent retention along with the ability to more easily recruit new team members who are excited to work for your firm.
- Encouraging innovation– Establishing CSR goals encourages innovative thinking to help reach or sustain them. It can also spur additional innovation as a means of taking certain goals or measures to the next level.
- Improving customer loyalty– Customers are the lifeblood of most brands. A study from Statista has found that 70 percent of customers tend to be more loyal to firms with established CSR policies.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT CSR EFFECTIVELY
If your firm doesn’t already have a CSR strategy, now’s the time to start thinking about implementing one. So, where do you start, and how do you go about the process?
Identify Your CSR Focus
What pillars do you want your CSR strategy to focus on? Although all businesses should have an obligation to meet the legal pillar, firms can select from one or more of the other pillars, demonstrating their commitment to making a positive impact on society and their communities. Consider creating a CSR team consisting of team members from a range of departments of your workforce to determine which pillars you want to focus on. Ideally, you would tie any CSR focus into your firm’s core values or mission statement to generate further employee and investor buy-in.
Develop a CSR Strategy
Once you have a general focus, it’s time to fine-tune your strategy. This means setting goals, establishing key performance indicators for each strategy and then devising a plan to monitor progress. You’ll want to write out a CSR plan that can be published on your website and shared with both your employees as well as your clients and partners.
Incorporate CSR Into the Company Culture
As mentioned above, it’s ideal if CSR efforts can be tied to a firm’s values or mission. This makes it much easier to incorporate into your company’s culture and does not represent a paradigm shift (of which employees and investors may be more skeptical). Keep in mind that your firm’s vision and mission statement define its identity, direction and goals.
CHALLENGES IN IMPLEMENTING CSR
There are a number of key challenges in implementing a CSR policy. Perhaps the most notable is getting buy-in on such initiatives from leadership or investors. While there’s plenty of data to support the benefits of a CSR policy, many leaders are still hesitant to commit to them, whether out of fear of not meeting them or potential impact on the bottom line to fund the program initiatives.
Similarly, on the other hand, garnering employee buy-in can also pose a challenge. That’s why it’s essential to ensure any CSR strategy ties in with a firm’s mission statement or values. If it does, gaining employee approval can occur more naturally, as the initiatives have a direct link to workplace culture.
Other challenges to implementing a CSR include
- Setting strategies or goals that are too ambitious.
- Not setting a clear metric on where you’re providing value (and to whom).
- A resistance to adopting such policies while a business is performing at a high level.
- A fear that establishing certain policies will contrast with the values of clients, employees, investors or partners.
LOOKING AHEAD WITH CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
The definition of leadership continues to evolve with time—and nowadays, being a great leader can be just as much about the impact you have on your business as the social impact you could make on the community and environment as well. At Johnson & Wales University, our various MBA programs help develop strong leaders who can balance the ever-changing demands that such positions call for today. For instance, we offer MBA programs in hospitality, organizational leadership and organizational psychology.