July 22, 2014
There is now an unstoppable energy for radical change in the way that companies of all sizes conduct their Corporate Social Responsibility duties. There are compelling economic and social reasons for companies to construct new ways of thinking and practice around CSR that go way beyond just doing something worthy or nice, from building effective partnerships to attracting top employees. Some companies prefer terms like ‘corporate responsibility’, ‘corporate conscience’, ‘corporate citizenship’, ‘social performance’, ‘sustainability’ or even ‘future-proofing’ over CSR. But the core CSR principles are that a business voluntarily commits to embracing responsibility for its actions and to impacting positively on the environment, on society and on consumers, employees and other stakeholders.
Ever-rising utility prices, extreme weather and extensive reporting on climate change has prompted many millions of people to view sustainability as a priority. Social and economic pressures for radical and fundamental reconstruction are intense and growing.
While many of the world’s leading businesses invest considerable resources in demonstrating their CSR, there is a significant trust gap as many observers underline the role of business in adding to already enormous challenges, such as scarcity of natural resources, an increasingly threatened environment, stuttering prosperity and a widening wealth gap.
And, despite the increasing prominence of CSR, corporate fraud and scandal remain commonplace and public trust in business is at an all-time low. A socially responsible company that embeds practical, strategic sustainability at its heart will attract more and better quality job seekers, who view this positive corporate culture as a source of pride.
These people are important. Activism in organisations can be very powerful and as a general cultural rule, 15% of people are activists by nature/character. Responsive Corporate Responsibility departments will harness the energy of these employees in the business context to help drive sustainable change.
Potential employees want to work for people whose values mesh with their own. Effective, trusted sustainability initiatives that link to specific company values are seen as authentic. People feel happier working with the support of these values. Distinctive sustainability strategies that are effectively communicated build corporate reputation and status so it’s important to develop tactics that go beyond the “just enough”, meshing sustainability with the brand, products and services.
A company that effectively pursues better CSR policies is also attractive to potential employees simply because it is trusted to care about staff more. A cohesive blend of external and internal activity on sustainability is essential to avoid being viewed as a “green wash” organisation.
At the same time, companies should be upfront about sustainability being a source of competitive advantage. Placed in context, there is nothing wrong with reducing energy costs, retaining employee skills and effective brand management but companies need to achieve a CSR balance by linking sustainable practices to social and environmental values. Companies need a broad range of business drivers and paradigms beyond simple, selfish pursuit of profit.
This is reinforced by CSR departments explicitly describing company values that drive specific sustainability actions, such as values about protecting the natural environment, managing relationships with external stakeholders, addressing employee concerns, and being a responsible corporate citizen. Often neglected but crucial is the need to emphasise management’s commitment to sustainability—from the C-suite down. Companies need to show that sustainability is embedded in daily activities across the board, with employees being rewarded and given support through training.
However, companies cannot continue to pretend that they can solve all the world’s problems every year. CSR departments should reach out and engage effectively with all stakeholders internally and ‘out there’, bringing the best opinions into the business through engagement and conversations.
Mark Sait is managing director of SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com, a full-service efficiency partner helping businesses and households reduce energy and water consumption, and cutting carbon emissions to improve sustainability.