Is Social Responsibility a Crock?
Results of the February Inc. Faxpoll
Few think so. Although your exact definitions of socially responsible business vary greatly, an overwhelming majority believe social responsibility is part of your corporate mission
What is your reaction to the idea that, beyond being successful as businesses, "good" companies have an obligation to "give back to society"?
I agree. Business can't be separated from other forms of social interaction. Social responsibility is good business 76%
It's a good idea for companies that have the resources, but it's not an obligation 22%
It's hype and posturing, just a passing fad 2%* * *
The majority of you seem to have concluded that "every business has a responsibility not just to shareholders but to its employees and to the community in which it operates." The few naysayers staunchly maintain that "the business of business is business." And some wonder what all the fuss is about. "We've been doing it for years, before it became fashionable." "Social responsibility is nothing new." Perhaps. But there is certainly a renewed emphasis on the subject.
What's the motivation behind social responsibility? For some, it's personal satisfaction. For others, it's a sense of obligation. Still others are more pragmatic, seeing social responsibility as part of their overall marketing plan. The goodwill it engenders in the community can generate "new contacts and new business." But having a social conscience can also cost you business: some of you actually turn down business because of your views. "I don't accept clients who have politics or policies I don't feel are right."
Market forces, you said, are demanding social responsibility. "Customers are now more inclined than ever before to make a purchasing decision based on how they feel about a particular company." Outreach efforts can be a good source of market research. "When you get involved with the community, you learn what its needs are." And campaigns to support your environs can improve the climate for your business. "Success depends on improving the entire system in which you operate."* * *
What specific actions or programs does your company undertake that you consider to be socially responsible?
Contributions to charities 80%
Environmentally friendly policies 46%
Employee support 32%
Community support 29%
Education support 20%
General volunteerism 14%
Charitable contributions, including donations of money, goods, and services, are the most common benevolent gesture. Many of you offer your products or services at reduced or no cost to needy organizations. A couple of you mentioned that you make annual charitable contributions in lieu of giving holiday gifts to customers -- no doubt with a note to the customer to that effect. A significant portion of your outreach goes specifically toward educational programs ranging from scholarships and donations to academic programs, to business workshops at local colleges. Many of you define social responsibility as pertaining to a very specific realm: the environment. Specific environmentally friendly policies include reducing the amount of packaging for products; recycling; using recycled materials and office supplies; and not producing hazardous products. Such policies, some say, can actually help you find the right employees. "Our commitment to social responsibility motivates employees and helps attract talented, ethical people to join our organization."* *
If President Clinton follows through on campaign promises to create new social programs and beef up existing ones with government funding, do you think the need for businesses to reach out will --
Stay the same 40%* * *
Most think the need to reach out will either increase or stay the same with the advent of the Clinton presidency. Why? Because the need is so great. "There are too many problems that are growing exponentially." And the government can't possibly do it all. "We need to fill the gaps in what the government can't afford to do." Many think public efforts are less effective and offer a poor return on investment. "The government is lousy at offering value for social-policy dollars spent." To avoid taxing small business to death, you said, "the government should offer incentives for businesses to provide aid to social programs, instead of providing direct funding."* * *
Would you continue socially responsible practices even if you found out they were cutting into your profits?
I would probably discontinue some of them 22%
No 10%* * *
Most of you interpreted this question to mean short-term profits and said, in fact, that many of your "socially responsible" polices already do cut into them. "Good business decisions provide for the long-term growth of the company -- that always cuts into short-term profits." "We should realize that social responsibility is really a way to profit." All well and good. But we wonder if the answer would change if your policies were a permanent drag on the bottom line.
-- Christopher Caggiano* * *
Note: Multiple responses account for total percentages above 100%.