All of the largest U.S. companies are engaged in some type of corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. CSR activities include charitable donations, corporate sponsorships, pro bono work hours and participating or leading fundraisers… And the activities usually focus on environmental, social or economic causes.
But it is not only the big corporations that engage in CSR activities. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, consumers are expecting more from the companies they interact with. It is not enough that services and products be of high quality, delivered on time and cost effective… Consumers and companies alike want to conduct business with other companies that are socially responsible.
“service with a smile” has been replaced with:
- Locally sourced
- Farm to table
- Special Olympics sponsorship
- Sustainable fishing
- Paperless/recycle work environment
but where did CSR come from?
Some scholars believe that CSR can be traced back to the creation of corporations themselves. (See: The Origins of Corporate Social Responsibility, University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 85, 2017.) In fact, our own state of North Carolina was one of the first to pass corporate laws back in 1795. The Origins of Corporate Social Responsibility essentially argues that corporations are entities created by the state, made up of individuals who are granted the right to collaborate to either make money (for profit) or provide a social and educational benefit to society (non-profit)… And that there is an implicit ethical “good will” that goes hand-in-hand with every corporation.
However, for-profit corporations are designed to make profits. Therefore, if saving the oceans is going to put a company in debt, management would have to pass on this opportunity. So, this begs the question: Why would a corporation ever engage in CSR activities?
CSR as a profit center
One of the easiest decisions to make regarding CSR is a situation where being socially responsible will save a corporation money. For instance, if new regulations are being enacted regarding plastic straws or plastic bags, making those changes is the right thing to do (and it saves money). Also, if there are tax incentives for recycling or going paperless, it would behoove the corporation to make those changes and reap the financial rewards.
CSR to attract consumers
There is no doubt that consumers (especially millennials) are now more socially conscious than in previous generations. (All it takes is one Facebook or Twitter post to start a boycott of some sort.) One could argue that, over the long run, CSR activities will attract more customers… But one thing is certain, CSR activities provide another platform for strategic brand creation, brand awareness and marketing opportunities. Companies are taking this to heart. A cursory review of TV and social media ads reveals the carefully coordinated CSR strategies taking place daily.
Take a look at Red Lobster’s “Seafood With Standards” campaign:
CSR as a recruitment tool
Another benefit of CSR comes with the hiring and retention of employees. In a talent driven economy, companies that are able to attract the most talented and experienced candidates will be successful in the long run. As stated above, with socially conscious millennial candidates, recruitment could hinge upon a company’s CSR efforts.
the CSR employee
Most large corporations have a CSR manager or other mid-level executive position dedicated to the social responsibility efforts of the company. This does not mean that every company needs a CSR employee—that really depends on the size of the company. Instead, it means that as part of your branding efforts, marketing, recruiting, sales and overall business strategy, CSR is one thing that every company should keep in mind.
it’s just the right thing to do
The Origins of Corporate Social Responsibility argues that even when not profitable, CSR is the ethical thing to do:
Beyond engaging in socially responsible behavior when it supports profit maximization, those organizing, operating, and owning corporations should engage in such behavior in two additional circumstances to fulfill their implied duty of good faith. First, in instances in which the socially responsible behavior neither financially benefits nor financially harms the corporation, which means it is cost neutral, the corporation should engage in socially responsible behavior to fulfill the implied duty of good faith within the collaboration. Second, in instances in which the financial benefit to the business entity is uncertain, the corporation should engage in socially responsible behavior to fulfill the implied duty of good faith within the collaboration. Because the future is often uncertain, this means that in many instances corporations should engage in the socially responsible course of action.
Thus, CSR relates to authentic branding efforts, as well as qualities that customers expect from the corporations they engage with:
- good faith
CSR is here to stay
One thing we know for sure: Customers expect—and are drawn to—authentic CSR efforts. Every company will have to decide its own CSR direction, starting with an internal discussion on what is most important and where the efforts should be focused. Start small… but think big. We all can do a little more… And having a CSR mission and directive is another link on the chain to having a successful business today—and into the future.
want to learn more about incorporating corporate social responsibility into your authentic branding efforts?
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