Gone are the days when corporations could get away with doing whatever they wanted without accountability.
No longer can businesses exist in a purely profit-driven manner without any regard for their effect on society and the environment.
With growing concerns about climate change, social inequality, and data privacy, consumers increasingly demand that businesses take a stand on these issues.
And they’re using their spending power to back up their beliefs.
Corporate social responsibility in marketing
In today’s world, consumers are more conscientious than ever before, demanding that businesses take responsibility for their actions.
Living in the age of social media and increasing public scrutiny, customers and clients expect more from the businesses they frequent. They want to see their favourite brands take real action to make positive changes in the world.
And that’s why corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become such an important part of marketing.
CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility.
At its core, CSR is the idea that businesses have a responsibility to society beyond simply maximizing profits.
This encompasses a wide range of initiatives and activities that businesses can undertake, but all with the goal of having a positive impact on the world.
It’s about much more than just philanthropy; it’s a comprehensive strategy that should be incorporated into all aspects of a business, from product development and manufacturing to marketing and customer service.
CSR is sometimes called corporate citizenship, as it’s about how businesses can be good citizens and positively impact the communities in which they operate.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO, defines CSR as a management concept by which companies integrate social and environmental concerns into their day-to-day business operations and stakeholder relations. They refer to the “Triple Bottom Line” framework, which incorporates social, environmental and economic performance as a measure of a company’s success, alongside its traditional financial bottom line.
CSR is also built into the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all UN member states adopted in 2015. These 17 goals are a blueprint for achieving a more sustainable future by 2030, and businesses play a vital role in achieving them.
What is CSR?
When looking at how businesses put CSR into practice, it doesn’t just mean being compliant with regulations, which are often slow to catch up with societal changes and the challenges of a global economy and supply chains.
Instead, it’s about taking proactive steps to have a positive impact, often going above and beyond what’s required by law.
There are many ways for businesses to get involved in CSR, and every company should tailor its approach to suit its unique circumstances, values, and footprint on the planet and society.
Here are some common examples of how businesses can practise CSR:
- Supporting local communities. This might take the form of charitable donations or sponsorships, but also things like employee volunteering programs or providing goods or services to local community groups.
- Diversity and inclusion. Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as well as within the supply chain. This includes programs like equal opportunity policies, flexible working arrangements, and working with suppliers from a wide range of backgrounds.
- Ethical sourcing. Ensuring that all materials and products used by the company are sourced ethically and from sustainable sources. This includes using recycled materials, supporting fair trade initiatives, and ensuring goods are sourced from suppliers who treat their workers fairly.
- Reducing carbon footprint. This includes taking steps to reduce the company’s carbon emissions, such as investing in renewable energy, using more efficient transportation, and reducing waste. It can also include offsetting carbon emissions, although the end goal should always be to reduce them in the first place.
- Improving customer experience. This might include reducing customer wait times, offering more personalized service, or making it easy for customers to give feedback. Customer protection means being transparent about product ingredients and providing clear and accurate information to the consumers. Ultimately, it’s about producing goods and services that meet customer needs and improve their lives.
- Environmental sustainability. Taking steps to reduce the company’s impact on the environment. This might involve reducing energy consumption, waste reduction programs, monitoring the environmental impact of manufacturing activities, and investing in renewable sources of raw materials.
- Product responsibility. Designing and manufacturing products responsibly, taking into account their whole life cycle, from sourcing materials to disposal or recycling. This includes using sustainable materials, ensuring products are safe for consumers and workers and designing products for easy recycling or reuse.
- Employee initiatives. Creating a workplace where employees feel valued and supported. This can include flexible working arrangements, employee development programs, and health and wellness initiatives. Care for employees should not be limited to direct employees but should also extend to contractors and other workers in the supply chain. It should also extend to their families and communities so that companies can positively impact employees’ lives beyond the workplace.
- Supporting human rights. Ensuring that human rights are respected throughout the company’s operations and supply chain. This might involve auditing suppliers to ensure they comply with local labour laws, supporting workers’ rights initiatives, or speaking out against human rights abuses.
These are just some examples of how businesses can practise CSR, but there are many other ways to get involved.
It’s important to remember that CSR is an ongoing journey, not a destination, and businesses should continually strive to do better.
Is CSR Important?
Critics of CSR argue that businesses should focus on making profits and that CSR is a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
Others argue that CSR is simply greenwashing – a way for businesses to make themselves look good and gain valuable PR brownie points without actually doing anything meaningful.
Supporters of CSR argue that it’s not an either/or situation – businesses can (and should) focus on making profits while also doing good. In fact, they argue that CSR can actually improve profitability in the long run by building trust with customers and employees, reducing costs associated with environmental damage or employee turnover, and creating new business opportunities.
The truth is that we can’t deny that there’s an increasing awareness of global issues such as climate change, human rights abuses, and poverty. And with it comes a growing expectation from consumers, employees, and other stakeholders that businesses will take responsibility for their impact on society and the environment.
A recent study found that consumers are 4-6 times more likely to trust and buy from companies with a strong purpose than those with a weaker one, so there’s no denying that CSR is something that cannot be ignored.
That’s why any company that wants to attract and retain customers, employees, and investors in the future needs to take CSR seriously.
Socially Responsible Corporations
Because CSR encompasses so many different issues, it can be tricky for a corporation to get everything right all of the time.
Still, here are some examples of socially responsible corporations and the initiatives that they are doing to make a difference:
- Wild manufactures sustainable deodorant and soap, sold through a subscription model, with packaging that can be returned and reused.
- LUSH is a cosmetics company that opposes animal testing and uses fresh, vegetarian/ vegan ingredients, ethical buying practices, and minimal packaging.
- Pukka teas are certified organic and fair trade, part of the “Fair for Life” initiative.
- Divine Chocolate only sources Fairtrade cocoa beans and is co-owned by cocoa farmers, giving them a say in the company.
- Triodos Bank shows that even finance can be sustainable. They only invest in companies that have a positive environmental or social impact.
It can be overwhelming when brands start to look into CSR for the first time.
A solid CSR strategy involves deep diving into every aspect of the company’s operations, including direct and indirect impacts, and looking at all possible stakeholders.
The first step is to do a CSR audit, which will help you to understand where the company stands, what needs to be done, and what the priorities are.
Once the audit is complete, you can start to develop a CSR strategy tailored to your company, a communication plan to share your initiatives with the public, a set of metrics to measure your progress, and an open feedback loop to ensure that your strategy is continually evolving.
Many CSR initiatives require implementing significant changes, developing strategies with partners, or a long-term commitment.
But there are also many easy wins that you can implement quickly to show that you’re serious about CSR and committed to change.
One easy win is driving transparency in your communication to let consumers and business partners know the values guiding your decisions.
Another easy win is to establish the causes you want to support and incorporate donations into your marketing channels through ViewsForChange, as a way to connect with consumers on a deeper level and further engage them in your CSR initiatives.
At the end of the day, it’s up to each business to decide how they approach CSR. But taking responsibility for the impact of business on society and the environment is not only the right thing to do; it makes good business sense too.