"What is it again that you do?" That's what my friends and family ask when they want to know more about this strange mix of green, business and "doing good" they think I am involved with. This observation is also one of corporate social responsibility's (CSR) biggest challenges and requires some explaining of the meaning and benefits for people who don’t work in CSR and sustainability.
Because translating CSR into a common language is crucial to make it popular, it must be presented in simple, understandable words. Very often we run into the danger of sounding like a cryptic, jargonized language, much like doctors.
So here is my attempt at simplifying CSR with examples:
- Employees: If you make sure that your employees can balance their professional and personal life, you are being socially responsible. Not only will they be happy, they will also show more commitment to the company. Let's suppose you have a repair shop. You pay your staff a fair wage and fulfill all the legal requirements, but that's the law. What makes you socially responsible is if you also offer talent management and training classes. This will not only improve their qualifications and increase productivity, it will also reflect in the quality of your company's services.
- Supply Chain: You are socially responsible if you know your suppliers well and work closely with them. For example, a responsible clothing store controls where the clothes come from by selecting its suppliers according to a set of defined standards. These could include their work conditions, their employee policies, etc. The store can also check if its suppliers are reliable and adhere to international labor standards. By extension therefore, if you pick reliable and ethical suppliers, it is less likely that you will have stock problems or delivery delays.
- Customers: Your customers are very happy with the products from your bakery because you offer traditional specialties. But they are will be even happier if they know that you are using only the best ingredients from selected suppliers. Furthermore, if they know their complaints and suggestions are taken into account, they will make sure to submit relevant feedback. These suggestions then have the potential for new, attractive products that bring you higher revenue.
- Community: Let's say that some of the products at your bakery are made with fair trade ingredients. Let's also suppose that 1% of these sales are intended to finance projects in the community that produces the ingredients. This initiative will in turn, attract new customers and promote loyalty for the bakery.
- Environment: Time for a new example. Let's imagine that you are a small food retailer. By offering local, organic products you are not only guaranteeing the best quality for your customers, you are also cutting down your carbon footprint, thus benefiting the environment and being socially responsible.
All these activities can turn into profit if companies know how to communicate their efforts and turn them into a competitive advantage. Besides, our work as CSR professionals will be useless if we don't translate these proposals and ideas into a language that everybody can understand, presenting the benefits of CSR in a clear, simple way.
--By Juan Villamayor
Juan is an economist and an MBA graduate from Barcelona, Spain. One of the first commentators on Vault's Job hunting in CSR series, where he discussed how there had been no reference to CSR when he was attending business school, he also highlighted how the current economy had shifted the focus from short term profits to long term sustainability in Europe. Here's an excerpt of what he said:
"The long run did not exist; everything was happening fast, here and now. But everything has changed now after the scandals of the last years. The crisis we are living in, especially in Spain and other European countries, is caused by the lack of corporate responsibility towards the community. That is why I decided to give my career a new orientation and complete a master on sustainability and CSR, keeping on working at the same time. In 2011, I have decided to switch over to CSR, no matter how big the risk is. One of the possibilities I have is to push for a CSR position in my company. Currently our CSR activities are coordinated from the marketing department (!). But I am ready for other options and one of them is becoming a CSR consultant."
Juan also maintains a blog A Touch of Green, where he discusses CSR and sustainability. Connect with him on Twitter @JuanVillamayor
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