The quest for corporate social responsibility goes on. In a world where we are now combating more crisis and global issues than ever before, it has become imperative that companies lead the way towards a sustainable future for society and the environment.
Corporate Social Responsibility: what is it?
Corporate social responsibility – CSR for short, or “for pretty” as my aunts would say – is not just about lowering a company’s carbon footprint and saving the world from global warming – though that is certainly part of it! CSR also demands that companies no longer turn a blind eye to the social issues of the world such as poverty, unemployment, healthcare, and education.
The concept behind corporate social responsibility is fairly straightforward: everyone is part of the world, and everyone should be helping build its future. By ignoring issues, social, economical and/or environmental, individuals or companies are making those issues worse. The message is simple: take responsibility, and if you’ve got the power, it’s your responsibility to to help solve the world’s issues.
How does Corporate Social Responsibility impact a company? aka. Why are we so focussed on Millennials?
Studies have shown that companies with a solid reputation as being a socially responsible business are more likely to attract Millennial customers. And believe us when we say you want to attract them; Millennials are today’s consumers and are rapidly becoming today’s leaders, if we don’t take steps to engage them our companies are bound to crumble and fall.
In a previous article, I’ve touched on their importance, but to summarize the ever-important subject, we should know that Millennials are the ‘always connected generation’ which is a nice way of saying that we – because I’m one of them – don’t have the excuse of shutting out the world’s problems thanks to the Internet and our inability to survive without social media.
Defining the Millennial generation is fairly straightforward, and so far the best definition I’ve come across came from LinkedIn’s Alex Rynne in the introduction for her Millennial Playbook:
- You grew up with the Internet
- You didn’t see any of the first three Star Wars movies in the theater
- You were in elementary school (or kindergarten) when grunge was popular
- You don’t remember leaded gasoline or smoking on airplanes
[…]Odds are you were born between 1980 and 2000.[…] According to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, we’re lazy, entitled, thin-skinned, and always distracted. We require constant positive feedback. We can’t function without three screens in front of us at all times.
Estimates for the buying power of the Millennial generation sits around $1 Trillion – yes, that’s trillion with a ‘t’. For marketers and salespeople, Millennials don’t buy into the ‘traditional’ tactics we were taught in school. On the contrary, according to many studies – like this one – they’re not swayed by advertising and they’re likely to research a product or survey before they buy it. More than that, they are more likely to trust a brand they know has a solid socially responsible reputation than one they know nothing about.
In other words, we’re not very far off from having only Millennial customers, and those Millennials take CSR very seriously; so seriously, in fact, the 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study shows that when companies support social and environmental issues, Millennial consumers respond with 91% increased brand trust, 89% increase in brand loyalty, and an 89% increase in the likelihood to buy companies’ products and services.
Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t just about the PR
Let’s be really honest for a moment: humanity and the planet could use the help. If all companies did what they could, even on a small scale, the world would be a better place.
If we’re extra honest, however, I think we can all look at our feet a little and shuffle around the fact that a lot of us actually don’t really care about the issues, and we’re actually chasing the PR behind corporate social responsibility. Let’s face it, it looks really good when you can say “We fund research to cure cancer!”.
Actually supporting that research is great, but shouldn’t this be about actually finding the cure for cancer rather than just the warm and fuzzy feeling we get from knowing that we’re actually being responsible?
Technically, motives shouldn’t make a difference: after all, as long as the research (for cancer, or to combat global warming, or eliminate starvation in Africa) gets done, should it matter why donate or drive that research? 10% of PR-motivated research funding is still more than 60% of nothing. Should it matter what motivates a company to do the right thing and take responsibility?
But think about it for a minute. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from popular television drama: the truth always gets out. Perception of the truth is a great thing, but all it takes is a whiff of hypocrisy and the brand is instantly damaged.
Take the Volkswagen carbon emissions scandal for example. They may not have been lying outright about the numbers, but now that The Truth™ – and its many versions – has come out, there’s no denying that their reputation – and their sales! – have taken a hit. How long before they make a full recovery? Can they?
Corporate Social Responsibility + Sustainability = Happy Planet, Happy Society, Unbreakable Company
Which leads directly into the big issues of sustainability.
A sustainable company will outlast all the other companies out there (because it’s self-sustaining! Obviously.). A company with solid CSR policies will naturally develop a better level of sustainability. We’ve established that Millennials will buy from a company with a strong CSR reputation; those same Millennials prefer to work for the same types of companies, and given that they make up the largest percentage of the workforce already, this is not something to sneeze at.
Recruiting, managing and retaining Millennial talent is a subject worthwhile of its own exploration!
To be responsible, or not to be responsible…
We might sit here, behind our desks, twiddling our thumbs about the whole thing. Why bother? If we can’t decide on a cause we actually believe in, should we still chase this down just because of the PR?
My argument would be: yes. Even if your company doesn’t actually believe in a cause, there are plenty of things in the world that need fixing, and every bit help. But I’m a pragmatist and I believe that money’s money, as long as what needs doing is getting done then what’s the problem?
There are plenty of people who would disagree with me, and being a Libra, I understand where they’re coming from.
The point is: human nature dictates that if we truly believe in a cause, then we’re not just tipping our hats, but we’re feeling the need that drives us to support it. That awareness, that motivation, is the essence of what will really change the world.
For a company to be truly responsible on a corporate level, the people behind that company have to be aware of the world’s issues.
And any problem can be fixed as long as people realize it’s a problem first.