It's no longer enough for businesses to simply buy and sell their products and services without considering the world in which they operate. Companies must voluntarily do business in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible manner to be sustainable over the long term.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) will look different for each business. For outdoor apparel maker Patagonia, it means strategically investing in a company that develops textile and garment processing techniques that use no water and generate little waste.
For Broad Reach client Alterna Savings, CSR means supporting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. In addition to sponsoring programs and providing academic scholarships to the club, Alterna employees have also served as volunteers. For Broad Reach client Primus Telecommunications, CSR means providing Canadian parents with the knowledge, skills, support and confidence they need to protect their children from cyberbullying.
Increasingly, CSR programs are being built into overall business strategy and decided on in boardrooms across the country. And as a nod to the increasing business focus on CSR, Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government even offers innovative programs focused on governance and accountability, and business and international development.
Using PR to showcase CSR
After a strong CSR program is in place -- one that has produced measurable results over time -- your business has the opportunity to showcase your program using strategic public relations.
As your business shares your CSR activities and values with stakeholders and the public, you give consumers and clients the opportunity to better understand your company's values. You also give them the ability to choose your brand based on how ethical, sustainable or environmentally progressive you are. More and more research indicates consumers gravitate towards brands with good reputations.
Here's how a strategic PR campaign showcasing your CSR initiatives will drive growth for your business:
It will encourage your executive team to develop a long-term strategy
A company-wide CSR plan encourages your executive team to look at their long-term business strategy, rather than simply focus on business results for the next year or two. A CSR program will encourage you to evaluate the long-term sustainability of your business and how it has an economic, social and environmental impact on its community.
The best CSR programs are built into the root of companies, as well as aligned with their core values and lines of business. Since it became a public company in 1985, The Body Shop has been an outspoken champion for the environment and vocal critic of animal testing. The company's products are created and manufactured in line with those values.
It will drive sales by positioning your company as a leader that affects change
Truly groundbreaking CSR has the ability to change the world. TOMS shoes didn't just make CSR a part of its business. The company was founded on the principle of philanthropy. "One for One," the company's motto, is reflective of its business model. For every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS donates a pair of shoes to a child in need.
The company runs an annual campaign that encourages people to go one day without shoes. CSR, and the principle of giving back, is embedded in the TOMS shoes brand. TOMS shoes has since expanded its product line to include eyewear.
CSR and your brand reputation
At the end of the day, CSR remains essential to building and maintaining a strong brand reputation. Beyond its capacity to grow your company, a PR campaign based on compelling CSR projects can also help protect a company from harm during a controversial or challenging event.
As CSR becomes a priority (and the norm) for more and more businesses, we expect to see a surge of innovative programs addressing sustainability over the long term.
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