Corporate Responsibility (CR) is the new buzz word. But until recently it was dismissed as fluffy marketing spiel. But the tide of opinion is beginning to turn—and many are asking: does it really have a serious place in the corporate jungle?
According to MarketingWeek it does. Their studies show that almost half of the 250 biggest companies in the world report on CR with half of them saying that they have gained a commercial advantage from doing so.
While it can be argued that only a quarter of the big 250 are reporting significant results, CR is still a relatively green subject despite having been around for years.
But it’s unusual for hard-nosed finance directors to miss an opportunity to increase their bottom line, so why has this previously ignored topic suddenly become the next big thing?
Because customers started to care. The last few years have seen environmental issues hitting the headlines with stark warnings about global warming; the ice caps are melting at an alarming speed, winters are getting colder and summers are getting hotter and as it has been so succinctly put by passionate environmentalists, there is no planet B.
The recession also revealed the flaws hidden behind many shiny corporate exteriors which had become complacent in the days of prosperity but hadn’t prepared for a rainy day. And it’s employees that are bearing the brunt.
Ultimately reputation is everything. Customer perception could make or break a company in a climate as turbulent as the one we find ourselves in. So whether you’re reducing your carbon emissions, painting a village hall or fundraising for charity you need to be seen to be doing something.
But let’s be honest, corporate and altruism are two words that have never exactly gone hand in hand. However, CR is now big business, and it’s less about philanthropy and more about profit margins.
Everywhere you look big name brands are marketing their commitment to CR, whether it is Velvet Toilet Tissue showing a toddler dressed as a managing director planting trees in the rainforest, or Kenco advertising how they have cut down their packaging by 97%.
So how do you go about jumping on the lucrative bandwagon?
Firstly, don’t fall into the trap of believing that your products speak for themselves and you don’t need to follow the masses. CR is not a fad, it will soon be a way of doing business; customers and suppliers will demand that certain business practices are in place, and it will soon be a consideration for employees in the same way that salary and training opportunities are.
Secondly, (despite previous cynical statements) companies do need to believe in the causes they are supporting and actively promote them or they will lack the credibility required to be effective.
We’ve touched on a couple of CR elements but there are many more that come under its umbrella: the environment; health and safety; social ethical and community issues; recruitment and retention of staff; cost management; ethical sourcing and procurement; public attitudes/building brands and investor relations.
While you may already have many of these covered, an overarching CR strategy is advisable in terms of joining all the strands together, embedding the culture into the organisation and of course measurement. It is a massive undertaking but the end result will pay dividends.
And it is this statement that will sell it to your senior management. Without their support and understanding you won’t get very far. However in many cases the work is already done as in some organisations it’s the senior management, board members and shareholders that are pushing the CR agenda having already recognised the business benefits. And this is likely to become the norm, which is why it is essential for internal communicators to fully understand CR and have a plan of action ready to implement.
But the ultimate responsibility doesn’t lie with management or internal communications; according to Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Group and a very vocal advocate of CR, everybody needs to take personal responsibility:
“It should no longer be just about typical ‘corporate social responsibility’ (or that horrible acronym CSR) where the ‘responsibility’ bit is usually the realm of a small team buried in a basement office—now it should be about every single person in a business taking responsibility to make a difference in everything they do, at work and in their personal lives.”
So what is the role of the internal communicator in all this?
You know your employees better than anyone else so it’s your job to make sure that the strategy and its objectives are clear, achievable and measurable and then embed this new way of thinking into the organisation.
Of course not and I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to communicate to your own people, but the incentive for you is motivated, engaged employees and a challenging project that will achieve far reaching results and outcomes to be proud of.
So there you have it, not only will you be communicating astute, commercial decisions, but you can also sleep soundly at night knowing that you are saving the world.