The Growing Importance Of CSR In Business
A proactive approach to CSR is an essential component to the success of modern day businesses. Growing public awareness of social and environmental issues and a rising number of brands answering the call to step up and do their part means that CSR in global supply chains and sustainability for corporates more broadly has become a high priority.
Doing the right thing is laudable – but many businesses forget a crucial part of the puzzle. While the main focus and efforts should always fall upon the delivery of a solid CSR strategy, it’s also important to consider the way that you’ll communicate the good that you do.
Fail to put a good communication strategy in place around CSR, and business will needlessly miss out on many of the benefits that come hand in hand with a strong policy.
If you’re wondering how to improve the CSR reputation of your business, read on. We’ll explore five ways that you can work to ensure that your CSR reputation as a business steadily improves over time.
1: More Than The Minimum: Stop Treating CSR As A Box Ticking Exercise
Attitude is everything when it comes to your CSR reputation. By coming at the issue from the right angle, you automatically strengthen your position. You need to consider the “why” of your efforts. In the past, CSR was commonly run by the legal department of a business. This meant that, in effect, it became something of a box-ticking exercise in compliance, rather than a strategy driven by genuine passion and altruistic intent. You can guess which approach looks better in terms of building up a reputation to be proud of.
We spoke to Katherine Ainsworth, Head of CSR at Smartbox UK about this very issue.
“When I think about CSR, from before I took on any responsibility for it, I think about one of the first roles I had (which actually is getting close to 20 years ago) in a really big retailer in this country. Their CSR team was led by lawyers and was very much about due diligence – about making sure that what they were doing was compliant with the law. It was much less about engaging with the world and really much more about ticking boxes of "yes, this is legal" and "this is the minimum that we have to do."
Today, CSR is about much more than the bare minimum. It plays a core role in competitive differentiation, market positioning, branding, customer loyalty, brand values and employee engagement. When it comes to communicating the attitude that your brand takes when it comes to CSR, showing the engagement of leadership can be a great way of demonstrating commitment and prioritisation. Katherine Ainsworth agrees –
“It is really important to get the engagement of the entire team, from leadership down. In our company, the leadership team stands behind CSR as an essential mission - we want to be a company for good. As a result, we have a company-wide objective, which all the leaders have taken into their personal objectives and then cascaded down into their teams. And that's been very helpful in terms of aligning the entire team behind the goals that we're aiming towards.”
2: Adopt Better Supply Chain Transparency Across Your Whole Business
So, taking a “top-down” approach to your CSR strategy in terms of management and incorporating values into your wider business strategy is important. But this attitude alone isn’t enough to secure your CSR reputation as a company. In order to see real recognition, your hard work needs to begin from the very roots of your operation – addressing every stage of your supply chain.
In recent years, claims made around sustainability and social good by corporations have often been somewhat “skin deep” – great for optics, but perhaps less effective in terms of the real impact that these strategies are having. As a result, the general public is somewhat jaded and even cynical when it comes to this messaging.
Supply chain transparency can be a great way of proving to a doubtful public that your CSR and sustainability strategy is designed to have a tangible impact. A “root to tip” approach, clearly communicating the effort that you’re applying to ensure improvements at each and every stage of your business can help to guard against any concerns or doubts they may have.
What’s meant by supply chain transparency when it comes to CSR? Promote the origin stories of your products and services – why have you chosen certain suppliers, materials or manufacturers? You can also be clear about your decision-making process linked to operational CSR decisions. Talk about your choices when it comes to greener web hosting, more efficient warehousing and fulfilment strategies, eco-optimised offices, and incentives that encourage carbon-friendly staff commuting.
The possibilities are endless – but by taking a careful look at your supply chain with regard to CSR, you’ll see that there’s a huge opportunity to improve and promote your superior CSR strategies as well-considered and truly effective.
3: Pay Attention To CSR Within Your Employer Branding
Next, let’s consider the importance of positing CSR as a core component of your employer branding and wider recruitment marketing strategy. In a competitive recruitment environment, where top talent needs to be attracted and won over with a wide range of competitive offers and incentives, the concept of working with a company that gives back and does good is increasingly important.
Studies have shown that CSR is important in various job search stages, and has been shown to be particularly important where a decision has to be made to take a job offer. They also suggested some aspects of CSR are most important in attraction “such as environment, community relations, product issues, employee relations and diversity.”
In terms of the effort you put in here, consider the demographics of the workforce that you are typically looking to attract. Age has a role to play here. Almost 40% of Millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability – compared to less than a quarter of Gen X respondents just 17% of Baby Boomers.
How can CSR be prominently featured within your employer branding strategy? There’s a distinct need for clear stats and reporting when it comes to solid examples and evidence of your achievements. Attract and win new employees by demonstrating an internal commitment to CSR via investment in dedicated CSR software such as KindLink. In turn, KindLink helps you to tell the story of your efforts in a more compelling and comprehensive way. Katherine Ainsworth found that this was the case at Smartbox UK –
“We started off using KindLink to structure some of our charitable work. We were doing absolutely loads of work (staff fundraising and corporate giving) but these activities were happening in different silos and nothing was coming together in one area. You couldn't really ever see all of the different things that we'd done over the course of a year, five years or beyond. KindLink helps us bring this together and demonstrate our efforts internally to our staff.”
4: Consolidated, Goal-Orientated Reporting For External Communication
The importance of having a clear strategy for consolidating your CSR efforts goes beyond your employee branding. It’s also important to be able to show the wider world what your employees are accomplishing. You might be doing great work - but if you have no way of measuring and consolidating the collective impact your business is having, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities to improve your CSR reputation.
When it comes to success here, the importance of setting goals, tracking progress and setting up a regular reporting cadence cannot be overstated. The public expects to see your claims to be “doing good” qualified and quantified – especially as more businesses start incorporating these messages into their PR strategies. Again, KindLink comes into its own here, with a dedicated CSR impact tracking tool that helps to streamline the impact reporting of your sustainability and charitable activities. Additionally, the platform gives you the opportunity to easily measure, share and celebrate your ESG and SDG progress.
Katherine Ainsworth uses KindLink to keep the CSR goals of Smartbox UK clearly stated and carefully measured – “In terms of making our goals more transparent, we're hoping to set some science-based targets that are in the public domain. This means that we'll have to start reporting on them and that process will become much more transparent. I think that it will be much easier for people to see our commitment from outside the company.”
Digitising the process helps in terms of incorporating messages into your existing communication channels. KindLink’s clear reports can be automatically generated from data that’s already collected and stored on the platform, meaning you have easy access to helpful resources. Your marketing team will be able to depend upon a reliable source of interesting, accurate content, which can help power your communications towards a much more CSR-orientated public presentation.
KindLink also helps businesses share the tangible difference that their efforts have made by allowing the beneficiaries of their CSR strategies to share their own impact stories. Additionally, your employees are empowered to spread the message of your CSR progress via sharing their own experiences via integrated social media capabilities.
5: Aim For Diversity Within The Range Of CSR Initiatives and Activities
Finally, don’t forget the importance of tackling CSR from a wide variety of perspectives and angles. It’s vital to remember that there’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to the “perfect” CSR focus. Your work could (and should) cover a wide range of approaches, from environmental aspects to the way that employees are supported and the deeper focus of your company as a whole. A great first step towards success in this regard is simply to listen to your employees and learn what they care about (KindLink can facilitate this by helping you collect employees’ preferences.)
SmartBox is doing great work when it comes to ensuring that their CSR strategy has an impact that is well-balanced and wide-reaching. Katherine Ainsworth reflects that – “we're also trying to increase our involvement in the community – going beyond just making a couple of lump sum donations to charities every year (although we’ve done this for decades) and instead considering how we engage with the community.”
Donations are, of course, important – charities depend upon the money they receive in this way. But there are other ways of being involved in the community, and in order to build out a well-rounded CSR reputation, we’d suggest looking at all of these opportunities.
SmartBox is doing just that – “We’re looking at volunteering days and looking at pro bono work. How can we potentially help charities (especially smaller charities) if, for instance, we've got a social media manager who wants to do a volunteering day? Could they do something that uses their skills (i.e. mentor or share skills with their counterparts at a charity) rather than going to paint a community centre wall? Painting a wall is still great, but arguably not the best use of their specific skills!”
Take Action To Improve Your Business’s CSR Reputation
When it comes to structuring your CSR strategy for ongoing success, stay mindful of the way your business is perceived internally and externally. Remember that your employees have the potential to be some of your greatest brand ambassadors –– and you can empower them to share this message via their individual KindLink user accounts.
CSR is the future of successful business - and the biggest winners in terms of CSR reputation will be the brands who know how to clearly communicate their efforts.