Corporate social responsibility--creating business value while promoting positive social change--is getting a lot of attention today, and for good reason. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it can also have a major impact on your bottom line (in the good way). In her book Just Good Business, UC Berkeley business professor Kellie McElhaney cites an IBM Institute for Business Value study that found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of business leaders worldwide are focusing on corporate social responsibility (CSR) to create new revenue streams, and more than half (54 percent) are convinced that their companies' CSR activities give them a competitive advantage over their top competitors.
Once companies make this a priority, it's amazing what comes to light-;or, in one case, goes to dark: When Walmart instituted an employee suggestion a few years ago to remove the light bulbs from its vending machines (which remained lit 24/7 and required periodic maintenance and replacement), the company saved more than $1 million a year.
If you would like to put the power of corporate social responsibility to work for you, then consider the following strategies:
1. Develop a vision
Socially responsible behavior in business starts with an awareness of who you are and what you believe as an organization. Ask yourself questions about your core beliefs, your business strategies, and your model of success. Once you can answer these questions you can begin searching for programs and initiatives that fit well with your organization's mission statement. Remember: whatever CSR initiatives you adopt have to match up with your company's culture and core values. If they don't, there will be a disconnect, and your customers and employees will notice.
2. Don't just talk a good game
Once you have decided to evaluate socially responsible initiatives and programs for your organization, take a moment to consider how well the programs fit with your current products and processes. When looking for socially responsible programs, strive to promote your business as well as your business practices. If, for example, your business wants to promote a concern for the environment, create a highly visible connection between what you say and how you act. In this ever-more-transparent age, any hypocrisy, or even a perception of hypocrisy, can seriously damage your CSR efforts. Companies that launch a plant-a-tree program one week to great fanfare, only to make the news the following week in a toxic-waste scandal, clearly don't get what CSR is all about.
3. Launch strong and monitor intensely
Once you have designed your CSR program you'll want to create awareness and implement your initiatives effectively, but don't forget to create ongoing procedures for monitoring how well these initiatives work. Big banners, clever advertising, and slogans that create a stir can get your message out, but monitoring the program's success, and how well it meshes with your established business practices, are what really count. In fact, assessing how well you can monitor the program long-term may help you decide whether it's right for you at this time.
4. Consider your customers' needs and preferences
Evaluate CSR programs in the context of meeting your customers' needs, because you need them to be on board. The good news is that most people support ethical business practices. Customers want to buy from and support businesses that are doing good in the world. However, keep your customers' needs in mind when promoting or adopting costly programs, or programs that don't fit your with customers' needs, values, and philosophies.
5. Use CSR to enhance talent recruitment
By practicing or implementing programs that promote corporate social responsibility, your organization will attract enthusiastic, educated, and talented employees who value your initiatives and philosophies. When your organization is populated with people who embrace and involve themselves with your CSR program, and who truly believe in its values, it is easier to seamlessly integrate, maintain, and promote such programs into day-to-day operations. This can create a virtuous circle, as success begets success, powered by people who are committed to and aligned behind your vision.