When it comes to establishing an impactful and positive international reputation, the businesses that are highly regarded are the ones that actively and continuously embrace corporate and social responsibility, also known as CSR. This is especially true today as more people around the globe demand that the businesses they interact with are as passionate and dedicated to environmental awareness and sustainability as they are.
While corporate social responsibility can be exhibited in a variety of ways and methods, including sourcing sustainable materials, reducing waste, sponsoring community organizations and implementing robust recycling programs, the main tenants are universal. These basic fundamentals are described as “a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”
It is no coincidence that many of the top performing international companies are also leaders in various CSR initiatives on both the micro and macro level. According to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 9 out of every 10 consumers expect companies operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues. Additionally, 84 percent of global consumers also reported seeking out responsible products whenever possible.
“Sustainability isn’t just important for people and the planet, but also is vital for business success,” points out Liz Maw, CEO of nonprofit organization Net Impact. “Communities are grappling with problems that are global in scope and structurally multifaceted. The business case for engaging in corporate social responsibility is clear and unmistakable.”
In terms of long term impact, a business’s commitment to social responsibility can improve their international reach and standing, while on the other hand a lack of CSR can negatively impact a business’s reputation. Take for instance this year’s list of top CSR businesses. Google, a company that is well known for both its corporate social focus as well as its long-term commitment to the planet, once again took the top spot. While Volkswagen, a company that faced a year-long public relations battle, dropped the farthest on the list, not even breaking the top 100.
As Volkswagen has witnessed, it is increasingly evident that consumers are concerned about long-term environmental impact and want businesses to align to a certain extent with environmental goals.
As part of this environmental commitment, multinational corporation IKEA introduced its People & Planet initiative, which calls for its entire supply chain to be 100 percent sustainable by 2020, even as the company strives to double sales in the same timeframe. At the heart of this progressive goal is the development of a new business model that includes post-consumer recycling for used furniture.
Of course, environmental awareness and social responsibility aren’t only important for large scale international businesses — smaller local businesses are also committed to the preservation of the environment and the implementation of sustainable practices. Especially the many startups that are making their way to market.
For serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, Don Simmonds, businesses that are established with an environmental focus are often better prepared to understand the long-term commitment that corporate social responsibility entails. Donald Simmonds, who has helped bring 20 small businesses to fruition during his career, has seen the concept of CSR grow in popularity over the last two decades and believes that for businesses to remain relevant and profitable in the future they will need to be able to exhibit and spotlight their many environmental and social initiatives.
Being socially responsible is ultimately a win-win situation for businesses. Not only do these companies appeal to socially conscious consumers and employees, they also make a marked difference in the world. However, it is imperative that all CSR mandates a business commits to are done in an honest and transparent way.
“If decisions [about social responsibility] are made behind closed doors, people will wonder if there are strings attached, and if the donations are really going where they say,” said Susan Cooney, founder of Givelocity a crowdfunding platform for philanthropy. “Engage your employees [and consumers] in giving back. Let them feel like they have a voice.”
In the hyper-connected contemporary world, providing a great product and shopping experience will only take a company so far. For those businesses that really want customers to keep coming back, they need to be assured that their money will be going to a company that shares their ideals for social and environmental sustainability.