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From your daily cup of Joe to the clothes on your back, consumers are looking beyond the companies that provide them with goods/services for something more.
Ethical business practices. Admiral leadership. A dedication to the community and/or a cause.
In many instances, a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices are equally as important as their deliverables.
Let’s explore what CSR is, who is executing CSR strategies effectively, and establish a starting point for developing a strategy of your own.
What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?
Originating from an aspiration to hold corporations responsible for their impact, CSR has since evolved into a valuable business strategy that aims to incorporate sustainable development efforts in the interests of not only the employees, shareholders, and customers of a business but the community and environment.
CSR looks beyond a company’s bottom line and focuses on having a positive impact to enhance future generations. Businesses that utilize this self-regulating model are aware of the footprint their company leaves on society and adapt economic, social, environmental and business initiatives in an effort to improve it. Some common examples of CSR practices include:
- Ethical business and labor practices
- Reducing environmental footprint
- Philanthropic giving of money, product or time volunteering
- Economic responsibility
Who’s Doing CSR Right?
When it comes to CSR, grocery store chain Trader Joe’s checks all the boxes. With more than 450 locations nationwide, the company’s CSR strategy is a big part of how it maintains that authentic neighborhood feels. From the beginning, Trader Joe’s founder, Joe Coulombe, put an emphasis on employee happiness, ensuring that they would be paid a livable wage and benefits. Keeping employees happy and showcasing its unique benefits is only the tip of the CSR iceberg.
From food donations to local programs that ultimately minimize waste and environmental impact, Trader Joe’s shows it’s possible to have a multifaceted approach. A policy to donate 100 percent of products that cannot be sold but are still safe for consumption has resulted in nearly $350 million in donated products to local food banks and other food recovery partners. The company is also actively involved with various environmental sustainability initiatives including but not limited to, a reusable bag option (even before it was hip) and a program that has recycled nearly 280 million pounds of material since 2017.
Dos and Don’ts When Developing a CSR Strategy
Don’t fake it. Be authentic, genuine and define a purpose. Decide what matters most to the business (beyond the bottom line) and go from there.
CSR is not something that should be forced but rather a strategy that supports all underlying business practices cohesively. Avoid the act of greenwashing – when an organization falsely conveys to consumers that it is operating socially and environmentally responsible – as it doesn’t fool employees or potential customers. A 2017 study by Unilever found that a third of global consumers chose to buy from brands that they believe are having a positive impact on both socially and environmentally.
Do be proactive. CSR strategies of the past often derived from companies having to defend themselves after being caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Incorporate a strategy integrated with the company’s core values from the very start.
CSR should be thought of offensively, not as a defensive practice meant to appease stakeholders or activist organizations as an afterthought. If your company is aware of improvements that can be made, make them! Don’t wait for regulation to force your hand. According to Unilever, more than 50 percent of people want to buy from brands that care and are more sustainable.
Don’t Sweep Your Efforts Under the Rug
It’s true that the monotonous publishing of CSR reports commending a company throughout the year may appease shareholders, but consumers are a different audience. These polished reports are long and dense, loaded with corporate jargon that may come off as disingenuous. Not to mention few consumers may actually ever read sustainability reports. Instead, meet consumers on their level and deliver these messages through earned media in a timely manner. Partnering with local community groups that are pounding the pavement for the same purposes your business has aligned itself with can also help get the word out about the great things being done.
By following these basic steps, you’ll be able to create an effective CSR strategy for your company in no time.