Corporate Social Responsibility- accessory or outfit?

By May 19, 2016Uncategorised

CSR- yawn- risks the fate of similarly overused corporate buzz phrases like ‘green policies’ or on the domestic scene ‘organic’ and most recently ‘clean eating’. Clichéd, faddy, potentially insubstantial, white noise…


Fact is, in fairness, CSR has progressed a long way from the 80s when early adopters earned box-ticking brownie points by pledging to donate a tiny percentage of profits to charity.  Nowadays, many corporates have realised that rather than a quasi tax on profits, an effective CSR approach can actually boost bottom line growth as well as their reputation.


Yes! CSR can be monetised- PepsiCo’s sustainability programmes have cut costs and hence grown profits by over $375m since 2010- mutually beneficial for business and society.  A 2015 Nielsen survey also revealed that consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for sustainably produced goods (66% v 50% in 2013). Think pricey sweat-shop-free American Apparel and ethical Body Shop. Moreover, companies with a well-defined social purpose can attract top talent to help them grow as, according to Deloitte, 77% of Millennials are attracted to social schemes like UBS’ Horizons, Raleigh International partnered, community development programme in Borneo and Costa Rica.


… so with so much to gain, how can corporates keep CSR fresh? Firstly, it seems, they change the buzzword to Corporate Social Innovation- the new scrubbed up 2016 version of CSR… but less of the cynicism…What can corporates learn from the best in class CSI programmes? 4 ideas…


  1. Don’t silo CSR/CSI/ whatever you wish to call it

There’s been great debate over whether CSR rests within HR, marketing or PR- as a kind of ‘accessory’- but the greatest impact on society and profits is surely achieved by making the company’s core strategy- the whole ‘outfit’- social.

Take the example of small but perfectly formed ‘Social Bite’. Scottish entrepreneur, Josh Littlejohn based his entire sandwich shop business proposition on CSR by insisting that 25% of his staff were formerly homeless people, providing training and temporary housing … food for thought… but perhaps not replicable by the big boys…particularly as 100% profits went to charity.

On a larger scale, Lloyds Bank’s 2014 ‘Helping Britain Prosper’ campaign addressed the need to have social responsibility permeating every strand of strategy. They identified seven commitment areas and actioned detailed business-wide plans to achieve targets such as increased new funding for British manufacturing, greater access to housing and community cohesion. Nespresso also brought CSR into their business core by creating a unique supply chain model– AAA Sustainable Quality- offering 63,000 farmers training, financial and technical assistance, above market coffee prices and investment.  Compare these strategically integrated examples with Microsoft’s 1983 ‘Employee Giving Campaign’, encouraging employees to participate in local fundraising events. Effective as this scheme was, raising more than $1bn to date, this social behaviour was incidental to Microsoft’s core business.


  1. Use metrics, measure results and report progress

Be transparent and honest- avoid green washing. Lloyds, who along with Unilever and Phillips topped the ‘Fit For Purpose’ index in 2015, measuring how far companies live up to their altruistic brand promises, uses 28 measurement metrics. By using external benchmarks such as UK Quality of Life Indicators to create these KPIs, Lloyds are able to identify areas of success and failure and publish progress results annually- in 2015 they achieved all but one of the 28.

Honest By, a fashion e-tailer, brands itself as the world’s first 100% transparent company, providing all details of the manufacturing process, down to the time dedicated to sewing and ironing the garments sold, costings and the retail mark-up. Their mission is to have ‘the smallest effect’…’possible on human health and the environment’.


  1. Think long term value rather than short term profit

It’s easier to engage with a social cause if you’re not pandering to short-term stakeholders. Unilever moved away from quarterly to annual reporting to focus on their long term Sustainable Living Plan, engaging every stage of the value chain, aiming to halve their environmental footprint and improve the lives of 1billion people.


  1. Think innovatively, avoid clichés

There are now loads of engaging, innovative CSR initiatives, but among my favourites are;

  • The 2006 Grameen-Danone collaboration selling cheap, nutrient-enriched yoghurt, sourced from local micro-farmers, to malnourished Bangladeshi children. The project created 1,600 jobs, including commissioned saleswomen.
  • Volvo’s Life Paint project helping save lives and the environment by selling cheap fluorescent spray paint to keep urban cyclists visible.
  • The Häagen-Dazs 2008 honey bees campaign, which sought to save the pollinators at the bottom of our food chain.
  • And finally…the Tinder NHS campaign, which used celebrities to persuade ‘matches’ to donate organs….


So perhaps there’s more than one way Tinder can solve matters of the heart…