Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a practice in which corporations can hold themselves accountable to their stakeholders, employees, customers, and the general public. By not only being conscious of their corporation's direct impact on economics, society, and the environment but also indirectly.
From C-Suite participation to helping build grassroots coalitions — the world of corporate social responsibility is ever-growing with new tools, new practices, and the advent of data to help organizations make better decisions for their stakeholders and the community at large.
What forms does corporate social responsibility take?
Corporate giving is perhaps the oldest form of CSR. Companies have always seen the benefits of giving, whether it be an in-house charitable org, scholarships, or donations to nonprofits. Many organizations also offer incentives for their employees to participate by matching or doubling contributions.
Another staple of corporate responsibility and social good is volunteerism. More than 25% of corporations offer a form of volunteering in the workplace, and surveys show that 70% of employees find volunteerism more morale-boosting than a company happy hour.
Company-sponsored outings that have a direct impact on the community have a direct benefit for the company. Employees love it, the community loves it, and it generates a ton of goodwill.
Perhaps the fastest-growing area of CSR is advocacy. Companies engaging stakeholders from across a broad spectrum to get involved in grassroots efforts. Employees, customers, and those engaging with your corporation want you to take a stance.
With the advent of digital advocacy software, it's becoming easier for corporations to do just this. They can easily activate these stakeholder groups in campaigns that can create policy change. These tools also can make the practice of CSR that much more measurable. From data on what legislative districts customers live in or how often employees are engaging in campaigns.
Advocacy will continue to be a vital part of corporate social responsibility, from securing better business outcomes to creating better, more just communities.
Creating sustainable practices has often been challenging for companies. It's a form of CSR that ties directly into revenue and operations. From how or where materials get sourced to going carbon-neutral, there are many approaches companies can take to sustainable practices. More and more organizations are making sustainability a core part of their mission and getting creative with their processes.
Just how are companies approaching sustainable practices?
- Adidas, in partnership with Parley, is turning pollution into performance sportswear.
- Patagonia's Well Worn initiative is helping extend the life of their gear and reduce their carbon footprint.
- On top of being socially/culturally engaged, Ben & Jerry's is incredibly conscious about their impact on the environment and sourcing dairy responsibly.
So, why is corporate social responsibility important?
Perhaps the most visible impact of corporate social responsibility is the one it has on brand image. CSR is excellent for public relations and can earn a company a lot of goodwill. What corporations should be cautious of is how genuine their efforts come across. It's easier for a company like TOMS, where responsibility is core to the product and company than say an Amazon.
Sincerity in activism and sustainability comes across more when a business makes efforts in an area that directly connects to their product and customers.
Take Patagonia, for example. While they've always been an environmentally focused company, they've made enormous strides in activism and engaging their customers in their CSR in the past five to ten years.
On top of everything else they're doing, by engaging their customers in digital advocacy, they're producing a level of loyalty and trust that nothing else can match.
Benefits to the Workplace
For a company to be successful, it must recruit and retain talent. Employees want to feel like they're apart of something more than a corporation. Corporate social responsibility does just that. Employees care more and more about not only their company's stance on an issue but what they're actively doing to make it better and how they're giving their employees the tools to help.
As Millennials now make up the largest portion of the workforce and Gen Z starts to grow, companies won't choose but to be more civic-minded and responsible.
At the end of the day, a corporation is just that—a corporation. The primary measure for success is profits, but it doesn't have to be "profits over people." Corporate social responsibility has continually proven to have a positive effect on profits.
Whether through more sustainable business practices, reducing employee turnover, or creating a better image for themselves in the market — they are all pathways to increase profits. Furthermore, having an advocacy program for stakeholders, customers, and employees to participate in and secure policy wins for your corporation has an incredible ROI.
And at the end of the day, it creates a better company and, more importantly, a better world.
The various forms of CSR all have the same end. Positive outcomes for more people. Whether it be environmental sustainability, social justice issues, or regulations around an industry—corporations participating in social responsibility bring more stakeholders to the table. More voices mean more equitable outcomes.