According to Harvard Business Review, more and more businesses are taking social responsibility seriously and adopting socially responsible practices and programs. But do these programs really make a difference, or is it all just hype?
In this article, we discuss social responsibility, how corporations can make an impact for others, and highlight a few brands that are leading the way.
Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to follow their example and make a difference in your community and the world at large.
To kick things off, let’s look at what social responsibility is and how you can approach implementing it in your business.
What is Social Responsibility?
Social responsibility, also called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is the principle that businesses should try to benefit society just as much as they try to make profits.
This usually involved the business building relationships with their local, regional, national, or even international community. This provides jobs, stability, and can help implement social change that improves people’s lives.
It relies on a system of ethics and the idea that businesses that “do the right thing” instead of simply seeking profits are better for their customers and the world.
But social responsibility isn’t just a buzzword or a front that you can put up for good PR. If you truly want to create a program that brings positive changes, you need to implement it across your entire organization.
But why should companies be socially responsible at all? Is there any benefit to a company putting their time and money into these efforts? Let’s look at that next.
Why is Social Responsibility Important?
The idea of socially responsible businesses has seen more traction in recent years, as more than 93% of the world’s largest 250 companies have active CSR programs.
On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss CSR initiatives as little more than trendy corporations panhandling for good PR.
But on the other hand, CSR truly does help bring about change.
While it’s a clear trend, it’s not something where you can get away with half-heartedly bandwagoning on other’s success. You have to get involved if you want to see the benefits.
And there are some very well-documented benefits for businesses that lead the charge in social responsibility.
What Customers Think About Socially Responsible Companies
The 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study found that 78% of Americans believe that businesses play a crucial role in helping bring change with social justice issues.
That same study went on to share that Americans are much more willing to spend money on businesses that are active and socially responsible:
- 87% will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.
- 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.
So if you’re looking for an out-of-the-box way to grow your business, investing in socially responsible initiatives is a good way to go.
The Long-term Benefits of CSR
When it comes to CSR, don’t expect overnight success. This is a long-term play.
A recent study from McKinsey Global Institute published by Harvard Business Review from 2001-2014 shows that businesses with a long-term social responsibility game plan see more revenue, earnings, and market growth.
So CSR is a legitimate growth strategy. It builds trust and promotes growth while improving your reputation.
But profits aside, there’s a laundry list of potential benefits that social responsibility brings to both your company and the world:
- It helps your public image
- You get more media coverage
- Boosts employee engagement
- Helps gather and retain investors
- Retain and win top talent
- Engages with customers, stands out from competition
- Provides better communities
- Gives opportunities to minority or disenfranchised groups
Yet the most vital of all the benefits is that socially responsible companies can help bring about positive change in any way.
It can be something simple like saving animals and placing them in good homes after natural disasters:
Or, it could be something more complex and universal, like the IKEA Foundation giving $2.3 million to build electricity infrastructure in East Africa.
It doesn’t matter if your audience is your neighborhood or the world.
Each initiative displays social responsibility in a unique light and clearly shows how brands can get involved and impact the world around them.
When CSR Fails
When social responsibility fails there are some very real downsides.
A great example of this can be seen in the impact felt by people with disabilities in the United States.
A recent study by The Brookings Institution showed that only four in ten working-age Americans with disabilities are employed.
This is a hard statistic to swallow because this demographic needs help on a day to day basis.
Many of the changes necessary to hire more disabled employees aren’t particularly difficult or costly, either.
For instance, here are a few ideas for ways that a company could hire more disabled individuals:
- Upgrading facilities to be usable by disabled employees. This includes desk height, computer screen magnifiers, or telecom equipment for the deaf.
- Restructuring shifts so that employees can receive treatment or have more rest days. A great example of this is a New Zealand firm’s new four day work week.
- Changing training materials or certifications so that those with learning or test-taking disabilities don’t become marginalized.
- Providing more unpaid or paid leave for medical conditions or treatments.
- Hiring interpreters or readers that help assist employees or improve communication.
- Hiring workplace specialists to help with training and onboarding those with disabilities.
- Transferring employees to different locations to help them improve their medical care.
- Ensuring that your information and communication technology (ICT), such as your website, software and hardware, is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.
Any of these methods can help improve the quality of work and the quality of life for disabled employees, yet many companies are not on board with these changes.
Employment for People with Disabilities
And this is even more disheartening when you explore the financial realities of the situation.
Individuals with disabilities often incur extra costs due to their conditions, which means they have to cover their basic living expenses and the costs of treatment.
Even if they have insurance (which is unlikely if they’re unemployed), this can cause an extreme burden and lead to financial ruin. If they can’t afford basic living expenses, how will they pay for medicine, treatments, or proper care?
The answer is that they won’t, and the problem will perpetuate.
So when this group stays unemployed or gets ignored by social responsibility initiatives, there are some severe consequences.
And this is just one potential problem of many.
There are plenty of problems in the world, and there’s always room at the table for more companies that are willing to give their time, money, and expertise to improving lives.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some ways that you can help.
Ways To Practice Social Responsibility
Now that you know what CSR is, what the benefits are, and what the potential downsides look like if it fails, let’s explore some ways that you can practice it as an organization.
There are at least four different “sectors” of CSR that any organization can tackle. Let’s look at the potential in each.
One of the most popular ways for businesses to exercise their social responsibility muscle is to turn towards the environment. Regardless of size, carbon footprint, or waste production, any business can try to “go green.”
Any steps to reduce even the smallest footprint goes a long way toward your community and in your customer’s minds.
A great example of a major brand that’s pushing their environmental efforts is Microsoft.
With their vast pool of resources, they’re funding projects that help reduce carbon footprints, provide clean energy, or helps secure the future of clean water supplies.
Another great example of this is Nike. They see the push for ecologically sustainable business practices as a way to push innovation and provide a more planet-friendly product that’s still top of the line.
While your company may not have the international reach of Nike and Microsoft, you can still help on a local or regional level.
Whatever the approach is, creating environmentally friendly CSR initiatives is a great way to go for any business. We only have one world after all.
As a business, you won’t always have the luxury of getting to push deeper into social change initiatives under your own roof.
In those cases, you can turn to philanthropy to find ways to push change.
By donating money, products, or services to social causes, you can help groups that are in need.
Companies that have special talents or more resources can be a huge benefit to charities or local community programs.
That’s a large scale example though. If you’re interested in philanthropic giving on a smaller scale, there are 1.6 million charitable organizations in America you can give to.
And every dollar you give is likely to help someone who needs it.
If you do nothing else, find an organization that you believe in and start practicing some philanthropy.
Ethical Labor Practices
As you saw in our example with the disabled population, there’s still plenty of work to be done in terms of ethical hiring and labor practices.
Companies have demonstrated that by treating their employees fairly and ethically, they can push the boundaries of social responsibility. This is especially true for brands that produce their products internationally in places with different labor laws than the United States.
One of the best examples of this currently is the clothing brand Everlane.
The fashion industry is fairly notorious for accusations of sweatshop labor levelled against some major brands. While they can provide low prices, it’s also a stain on their reputation and a severe human rights issue.
Everlane does their best to avoid that issue altogether. They’ve pushed hard to provide clothes made in factories that provide fair wages.
The result has been more than $100 million in revenue and a huge win for socially responsible companies.
And along the way, they’ve also dedicated themselves to helping push environmental initiatives with their products are well:
While you may not have to deal with international labor laws and public perception, there are still ways for you to practice social responsibility in your labor practices.
Hire disabled individuals.
Pay women and men comparable wages when they have the same amount of experience.
Or find ways to pay your employees more than the industry average so that they have a better standard of living.
Any of these could be steps forward for ethical labor, and you can be a part of that.
Volunteering is the final way that businesses can exercise social responsibility.
It’s a great way to help reach out to your community and prove the sincerity of what you want to achieve as an organization. When you do good things for people without asking for something in return, they believe you when you say you care.
That’s why people actively look for organizations that let them volunteer in their communities.
For instance, Salesforce offers a variety of ways for their employees to get involved in their local communities:
- Skills-Based Volunteering (Pro Bono)
Pro bono volunteers help organizations become more efficient and connected with cloud technology.
- Employee-Inspired Volunteering
Salesforce employees get seven paid days of volunteer time off (VTO) each year.
- Employee-Inspired Giving
Employees can request donations for various charities through Salesforce’s Volunteerforce portal.
And this requires zero financial investment or giving. They simply show up and give their time and skills to a cause that needs help.
It’s a methodical and powerful way to help drive change and increase the potential of social responsibility.
Social responsibility isn’t just a trend that’s going to die out in the next few years.
It’s the right thing to do.
If you want to help make a positive change in the world, CSR is one of the best ways to get involved. You can help people improve their lives while simultaneously growing your brand’s reputation and audience.
Find ways to give back to the environment, or to just give. Exercise ethical labor practices, and find time to volunteer for a good cause.
Just think: If every organization pitched in just a little, we could get a lot done.