What does CSR look like in practice?

This blog post originally ran on the Greater Memphis Chamber website. View the original post here

Welcome back! We’re in the middle of a blog series designed to help emphasize the importance of developing and defining corporate culture. This blog post centers around corporate social responsibility, a hot topic for businesses in the past decade.

What is corporate social responsibility?

Simply put, corporate social responsibility is a series of actions taken by businesses to enact positive change. Most often, CSR lives out through clearly defined charitable or issue-based programs that are marketed and shared with consumers.

There are some commonly known CSR examples. One of the pioneers of CSR, Toms, may have come to mind. When Tom’s launched in 2006, they came to market with a One for One program, where a pair of shoes was donated to a person in need every time a pair of shoes was purchased through Toms. Since 2006, Tom’s charitable programming has expanded to support clean water, healthy birth and education initiatives. But, it started with a simple shoe donation.

Lush exemplifies another form of CSR. While it has giveback programs and makes charitable donations, the core of Lush’s CSR stems from how it develops and sources its products. They are transparent about their supply chain, committing to cruelty-free, ethically sourced, handmade, and “naked” products in stores, online and on its packaging. They also choose to advocate for social issues that are in alignment with the brand’s standards through blog series and on social media.

As you can imagine, CSR looks differently for every company, and that is part of the beauty of it. You are free to support issues that matter to your employees, clients, community and industry in a way that aligns with your business. It’s a great opportunity to spotlight your connection to causes and be transparent with your audiences.

Why is it important for businesses today?

According to a 2017 study by Cone Communication on CSR, 87 percent of consumers surveyed would purchase a product simply because the producing company supports an issue they care about. Picking a cause, creating a support plan and publicizing this plan can truly have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Beyond purchasing power, consumers expect and are hopeful that businesses will take charge by trying to create change. If you have the power to make a positive impact, why not do it?

How can I incorporate social responsibility into my business model?

While CSR sounds lovely and is made to look easy by the big guys like Toms, creating a CSR plan that fits your business, your community and your customers isn’t so simple. Start by finding a cause that makes sense for your business to support. It’s important to note that the same survey mentioned above found that more than 75 percent of customers would withhold their purchasing power if a company supported a cause contrary to their personal beliefs, so cause selection is highly important.

Survey your customers and employees to determine what is important to them. If you’re a bookstore, and a majority of your clientele is families with small children, supporting a reading initiative or sponsoring a school library may be a great opportunity for you. Whatever you choose, you want it to clearly connect to your business and translate well to your customers.

Once you’ve landed upon a cause, start working on how you’ll integrate this cause into your everyday operations. Will it be a giveback program like Toms? Or, will you commit to changing your processes like Lush? You may pursue neither of those pathways, but whatever path you embark on, I encourage you to start small and act genuinely. Slowly roll out the program and test the reception with a small sample size of your audience. Then, carefully craft messaging to publicize your cause without self-righteously emphasizing your good deeds.

As you embark, remember that CSR, more likely than not, will cost your business money. While you will be supporting a worthy cause, you need to make sure you can financially commit to whatever program you create. But, don’t be afraid to adjust or expand your program like Toms did. As Toms grew, the company took on more causes and expanded its line of products. You too can expand, adjust or pivot your CSR strategy.

Whew! That seems like a lot to do. But, it doesn’t have to be done all at once. If you have questions about CSR or corporate culture, look out for our team at an upcoming session of the Chamber’s Lunch in the Know series. We will be discussing multiple facets of corporate culture, and you won’t want to miss it. Until then, see you next week!