Would you purchase products or services from a company that was exploiting its workers? Or partner with an organization whose business practices were harming the environment? For many people, the decision to engage with one brand versus another doesn’t always come down to price or quality alone. Instead, many people are making conscious purchasing decisions based on a brand’s performance and track record in the area of social good.
In today’s “what have you done for me?” world, savvy companies understand the power of giving back. Success is no longer simply a product of having the most sales or the biggest shareholder dividends. It also involves allocating corporate time and resources to address pressing causes, things like affordable housing, universal education and environmental stewardship to name a few. Corporate America, so long criticized for its grasping hands, is now trying to join hands with local, national and global causes to make the kind of difference that goes beyond a press release. Companies are boldly stepping into areas that were once the exclusive domain of charitable organizations or the federal government. We call these collective efforts Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and it can be defined as “a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable—to itself, its stakeholders, it’s employees and the public.”
In 1953, the term Corporate Social Responsibility was coined by American economist Howard Bowen in his book Social Responsibilities of the Businessman. It’s interesting to note that the man who is often referred to as the Father of CSR was an economist. Bowen realized, long before it was fashionable, that giving back was a win-win situation — it provided benefits for society and generated positive economic returns for businesses. The idea picked up steam in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that CSR efforts reached maturity.
Today, CSR is a de facto part of any successful company’s strategy. Why? Because it makes good business sense. Author and entrepreneur K.C. Hildreth recently published an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about BlackRock, a $7 trillion investment fund that announced last month it would begin making investment decisions with “environmental sustainability” as a core goal. When Hildreth was asked why, he remarked “It’s not because they are ‘do-gooder environmentalists with a liberal agenda’—these decisions are driven by the significant investment risk posed by environmental degradation.” To further illustrate the backing that CSR has from a business angle, look at a recent update to its charter made by Business Roundtable (BR). Signed by 181 CEOs of American corporations, BR amended its statement of purpose to say that “companies exist to benefit customers, employers, suppliers and communities, not just stakeholders.” It’s a major shift in the way the boardroom views business.
One of the most exciting things about CSR is its ability to inspire innovation. The kind of innovation that goes beyond profits and instead focuses on driving positive social and environmental change. Some of the most progressive and innovative CSR programs are now those sponsored by companies like Cisco, Netflix and TOMS.
In November of 2019, Apple pledged $2.5 billion to help end homelessness in California. Earlier in the year, both Facebook and Google pledged $1 billion each towards the same cause. Johnson & Johnson has a long history of CSR programs with the overarching goal of reducing its environmental footprint. A two-pronged approach in Texas saw J&J purchase a privately-owned energy supplier to reduce its own environmental impact while providing a renewable alternative to electricity.
But not every CSR initiative is about what’s happening outside the company. Streaming giants Netflix and Spotify both offer progressive, family-friendly policies that benefit employees and their families. Things like 52 weeks of parental paid leave are truly revolutionary. On another front, Starbucks has pledged to hire 25,000 veterans by 2025 in one of its efforts to diversify its workforce.
Sometimes CSR programs are designed to provide more pragmatic assistance. For instance, TOMS has donated over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need. Moving those efforts overseas to developing countries, TOMS reinvests profits in programs that provide prescription glasses, medical treatment and safe drinking water. Global pharma giant, Pfizer provides no-cost medications to refugees and in areas hit by natural disasters. Cisco takes yet another approach to CSR by focusing on education and career advancement. The Cisco Networking Academy is a global program designed to provide education and career-building resources to people around the world with the goal of using technology to drive economic equality and advancement for all.
If your company doesn’t have a formal CSR program, now is a great time to start. Opportunities to create real, positive social or environmental change in the communities in which we live and work are all around us. Several organizations in the Los Angeles area, like L.A. Works, can help you organize corporate volunteer events and identify opportunities to provide assistance to the community in a variety of ways—paint a school, plant a vegetable garden, provide career training. The opportunities are limited only by your imagination and your willingness to roll up your sleeves and pitch in.