Corporate Responsibility

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

November 05, 2019

Nowadays where we shop and what we purchase can be just as big a personal statement about who we are and what we stand for; what political party we belong to, what beliefs we hold, and what charities we support. For me, personally, similar to most Americans, I think about what corporations my money is supporting and in turn what that corporation and their reputation says about me; and I feel better about myself when I make a choice to contribute to something that has a positive effect on the world or someone else’s life – whether it be purchasing my shoes from a company that donates a pair of shoes to a child in need or buying a coffee from a shop that treats their employees like family.

As I’m sure you can already imagine, there are so many ways and forms through which the corporate world can give back to their communities, employees, customers, neighborhoods, countries… you get the picture. But what do we call this phenomenon? Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Corporate Social Responsibility Defined

The definition of corporate social responsibility is a, “self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.”1 In other words, CSR is the effort a company makes regarding social betterment.

What is the Purpose of CSR?

The primary purpose of CSR is for the benefit of society – yes, but it also benefits a company's brand. CSR efforts, volunteer programs, and philanthropy boosts reputation and subsequently the profits of the business itself. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship between brand and consumer. It is a win-win.

Some companies are founded from the very beginning with a cause – take TOMS Shoes for example – for every pair of shoes you buy, a pair will be donated to child in need, one-for-one. This simple but incredible thought was the start of a now multimillion-dollar company and over 60 million shoes donated. Most companies however build themselves and their profits up until they have enough to establish a CSR program such as partnering with a charity or donating proceeds to a cause. The larger a company becomes the more reach is has to set the ethical standards of behavior for its peers, industry and competition.

Today, 93% of the worlds largest 250 companies publish annual CSR reports.7 Over ninety percent! That number really shows you the importance society puts on CSR… these companies wouldn’t be in the top 250 if people didn’t support them morally and fiscally. And I am confident that this is not a passing trend. We as consumers have a say and the power to hold companies socially responsible and if they don’t rise up to the standards set out by themselves and the consumer more and more, we have the influence to effect the overall profitability and growth of the company.

Why Does Being A Socially Responsible Business Matter?

Being a socially responsible business frequently incurs higher labor and material costs, but as I mentioned earlier these higher costs can be waylaid by profits gained by being a more ethically or socially conscious brand, which consumers find more appealing. Over 55% of consumers pooled by Double the Donation Research said they would happily pay more for the same item from a socially responsible company.7

It is also doesn’t hurt a business to stand out from the crowd—for the right reasons of course…

For example, if a company shows that it is dedicated to helping solve social issues such as rising rates of child undernutrition, it is also showing that the company believes in positive social development. That belief and commitment will appeal to customers who want to buy from a company that authentically care about children and their suffering. And by supporting improved nutritional practices, a company shows consumers and the public that it cares about people, the world and the future. And with that, customers are not only more likely to purchase from a company that is socially responsible they are more likely to connect to a company on an emotional level which will help generate and maintain customer loyalty.

What a company does in its day to day proceedings is a reflection of that company’s values, and like I was saying in the beginning of this blog, the values of its employees, customers and increasingly its investors.

Taking a stand or having a cause is not always as simple as it sounds though. In fact, it can be quite polarizing depending on the type of CSR. Values such as environmental preservation, empathy, and inclusion are hot topics that don’t always align with current governmental policies. As a result, responsibility, ethical consideration and influence are now more rooted than ever in the corporate world.5

In an interview, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that when the government is less functional, it falls on businesses and other areas of society to “step up.”8 This comment begs the questions: Who is responsible for “stepping up”? Today, problems such as political divisions, immigration, globalization, and discrimination forces companies to either take a stand or become complacent.6

CSR and the Leader

An interesting quality about leadership in companies, and leadership in general for that matter, is that we do not think much about it until a leader does something horrible or fantastic. And as is the curse of the leader, it takes these extremes before we come to the conclusion that for better or for worse, leaders’ matter – a lot.

In companies it often takes a driving force to embrace a certain ethos, go in a new direction, or try something new. The people behind this driving force are the ones I call leaders, and not necessarily because of their job title, but also from their ability to influence and engage others. Without these leaders steering the ship, CSR initiatives will most likely never take off.6

Transparency in Leadership

Transparency has become the expectation for leaders in today’s corporate sector. And with transparency comes the opportunity for collaboration.

“In 2019, companies will be asked to provide even more transparency into their strategies and public goals—from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index to the Just 100 Index, companies will increasingly be ranked on their public transparency and disclosure. Companies that provide a transparent roadmap of progress—and challenges—will be poised to help drive collective impact. New industries will continue to rise to the challenge.”6

Again, this leads back to the idea of corporate accountability. Leaders are now having to open the doors to public and governmental scrutiny. This trend is becoming more and more common place and showing very little signs of stopping. The customer wants to know if they can trust the company they are dealing with. We want to know where our money is going and if it is being used for good.

CSR And The Employee

Customers and the public are also increasingly concerned with the corporate treatment of employees. Corporations such as Google, ranked first in its industry for its relationship with employees, that have a reputation for treating their employees well are valued above other big corporations that the public deem untrustworthy. Having a positive relationship with employees also reduces employee turnover rate.

If we as the public would be horrified at the idea of working for a company… why would we want to support it with our money. These reputations are only becoming more and more important, and with transparency becoming an omnipresent factor we are beginning to see companies for who they really are.

CSR programs can help foster a stronger bond between employees and the companies they work for. Feeling like both the employee and employers are working towards the same goal and for a cause can boost morale and make the organization feel closer to the communities they support.1

With job opportunities on the rise, employees are now more than ever pickier about the roles they choose. Most applicants are drawn to companies that have a good track record for social responsibility, such as environmental protection, and rank CSR as one of the strongest influencers in their decision-making process. By having a strong CSR program, a company can attract people who have skills such as innovativeness, leadership and collaboration.4

Hilary Smith, EVP of Corporate Communications and Social Impact at NBCUniversal, explained: “There is a growing trend for companies to craft their corporate social responsibility strategy around their employees’ passions, first and foremost, as opposed to focusing mainly on their external brand reputation. Today, employees, particularly millennials, expect to work for a company that gives back. But they want to give back on their own terms and have a say in what causes their company supports and how and when they volunteer their time. It is important for companies to survey their workforce and forge relationships with non-profits in areas that their employees are passionate about, and with charity partners that allow you to customize employee engagement opportunities.”5

Companies are being held accountable not just by public opinion but also by their own employees. Paid Volunteer Time is now something that employees expect to be a part of their contract and companies are listening. To attract the best talent you have to offer the best incentives.

Working today is so much more than who offers the largest pay check – it is who do you feel the best about working for – employees care about the why.

What CSR Means to Me

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog this conversation has only scratched the surface of the CSR topic. I plan on writing more in depth articles that delve into CSR specifics such as B-corps, companies that are doing CSR right, assets you must have to be an effective CSR leader, things every company must do be CSR compliant, and more in the near future.

Corporate Social Responsibility is not going anywhere anytime soon and I’m so thankful for that. We need to hold ourselves and our organizations accountable for the impact we have on our communities and the world itself.

I am now working for a company called Plexus Worldwide® and I couldn’t be prouder of the efforts made by the leaders, employees, ambassadors, and customers to support the company ethos of One Plexus. One united company and united front working together toward the same goals and for the same causes.

One such demonstration of these efforts is Plexus’ Nourish One® initiative. Through Nourish One, every serving of Plexus Lean™ that is purchased, Plexus will make a donation to one of its partner organizations: Feeding America® and Mary’s Meals. Thanks to the generosity of the One Plexus community, Nourish One has seen tremendous success. To learn more about this initiative, view this article.

I believe strongly in being a loud voice for corporate citizenship and encourage myself and the organization I choose to work for to step up and stand for a cause we believe in.



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