If you follow the social responsibility and sustainability movements, you could get the impression that everyone is already in the choir or at least auditioning. Yet, you are not alone if you are confused or have a growing sense of being behind. Take heart, many companies are at very different stages of implementation. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) may seem like the latest buzzword in the world of business but in essence, it is an evolution of some prior practices.
For example, most companies have at least some level of policies in place for environmental, health and safety (EH&S) practices. Many have guidelines for community giving. Companies of all sizes have at least some language in their employee handbooks or practices which address workplace ethics, equality and diversity. Each of these areas combine and are extended as the basis of a newly-evolved and integrated CSR strategy.
Still, unless you work in or as a supplier to some of the largest or most progressive U.S. corporations and consumer-facing brands, you may find the whole concept perplexing. How do you begin? Here’s a simple starting point: thinking through a CSR strategy begins with three A’s. Ace these and you are on your way!
Like any business plan, a critical first-step is assessment. You need to know where your organization currently stands against Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. The good news is that you get to determine which GRI standards make the most sense for your organization and type of business. The challenge here is assessment requires looking across your organization to every area that can impact CSR, including your supply chain. You will need to bring together key influencers in HR, EH&S, Community Relations, Communications/PR, Investor Relations, Channel, Legal and Ethics, as a start. Appoint someone to lead the charge who can ask the right questions and scope out unbiased departmental best practices, as well as programs and processes that may need to change.
To establish a CSR roadmap, key internal and external influencers must align on the same journey. This is where you determine your go-forward CSR vision and goals. A critical part of that vision is alignment with your overall company strategy. After all, CSR speaks to “the balance between profitability and responsibility.” What do your stakeholders expect of you? What values drive your business? What markets do you serve? Who are your future customers? Does your community giving align with that vision? What changing regulations are likely to impact your business? Will scarcity of raw materials require a change to your products? How can you align internal and external players to have greater global and local impact? Are your actions responsive, preventative or innovative?
Applying your CSR roadmap requires continued collaboration. How will you know if you are successful? Have you determined measurement criteria? Have you set company-wide compliance goals? What will you do if something dramatic happens, such as a supplier who doesn’t adopt your standards? Do you have a crisis communication plan? One of the foremost attributes of quality CSR programs is the level of transparency in reporting. Is your organization prepared for transparency? Unlike past practices, modern CSR reports demand looking beyond the ‘good.’ Be prepared to also share your progress toward your goal-state and explain significant misses.
So you may be thinking, why put yourself out there? Certainly public companies know the scrutiny and advantages of shareholders “voting” on their sustainability prospects. If you are a private entity, the CSR movement is still highly-likely to impact how you do business and how you attract talent. While CSR is more than environmental and all things ‘green,’ your business will certainly change if you can no longer count on required natural resources. No matter where in the world you do or want to do business, you also need to know the changing regulations that are likely to impact your ROI.
The transparency that stakeholders are demanding is increasing, not decreasing. And those stakeholders are no longer just special interests groups. They are employees and shareholders alike. Companies with solid CSR strategies reap the benefit of engaged employees who want to work for you, engaged customers who feel good about buying from you, and if you are in someone else’s supply chain, engaged buyers who want to do business with you!
But recognize this: if you don’t provide a balanced look at your progress, you can be called out at any time in the court of public opinion. And that can happen whether you decide to do CSR reporting or not. The greater advantage by far goes to companies that are prepared and ready to move toward a truly integrated CSR strategy.
- CSR provides “reputation insurance” when products fail (sustainablefutures.info)
- Avoid These Costly CSR Mistakes (environmentalleader.com)
- CSR Communication: Quality, not quantity (businesswithcommonsense.wordpress.com)
- Why exactly are you doing CSR? (tec-canada.com)
- Want better CSR? Companies should try good old-fashioned resourcefulness (devex.com)