When you think of the term sustainability, you may think of reducing material usage and lowering your carbon footprint. Or maybe you envision increasing your recycling efforts and planting trees. Those are all great, but another part of sustainability factors in building a better future for both your company and the world. And you can achieve that through corporate social responsibility (CSR). Many things can fall under the umbrella of CSR including meeting ethical standards within the business, participating in charitable giving, volunteering, improving labor policies, and improving the company’s environmental impact. The fact is, when done well, CSR affects everything from current employees to talent retention, attractiveness to customers, and even overall company success.
Many companies today have grasped the importance of CSR and have made strides to actively participate in measures to lessen their environmental impact to improve the world as a whole. Consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs), especially, are taking a tailored approach. Take for instance, the Coca-Cola company. As the world’s largest nonalcoholic beverage company, it produces a lot of plastic bottles, and, as such, is taking measures to lessen the impact of the waste associated with those bottles.
One such way is Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste initiative that focuses on three key areas. As part of the design focus, the company aims to make 100% of its packaging recyclable globally by 2025, use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030, and lastly reduce the use of virgin plastic derived from non-renewable sources by a cumulative 3 million metric tons by 2025.
Additionally, its reuse goal is to have at least 25% of all beverages worldwide by volume sold in refillable / returnable glass or plastic bottles, or in fountain dispensers with reusable packaging by the year 2030.
The company isn't just addressing environmental sustainability. In 2014, Coca-Cola invested around $126 million in CSR projects including "healthy living initiatives, water stewardship programs, education, women's empowerment, humanitarian, and disaster relief programs."
Many other CPGs are focusing their CSR efforts on saving plastics from entering the world’s oceans, taking a stance against human trafficking, and choosing only fair trade. Method, the personal and home care products company, has focused efforts on ensuring transparency in its supply chains. The company supports the goals of the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, “which requires companies to disclose the efforts they have made to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking.” Within this, the company works to ensure that “quality and safety standards are maintained throughout our supply chain and that workers are treated fairly and in accordance with all applicable laws.”
Through transparency in supply chains, Method is choosing to focus energy on improving the lives of its employees, as well as the companies and individuals involved in creating and shipping its products.
Then there’s the Bumblebee Seafood Company. The food brand works to champion sustainable fishing and advocate for fishers, while providing its consumers with only sustainable seafood.
“The responsible management of fisheries from which we source is central to our programs. We supply products from sustainable, healthy fisheries and from areas that have action plans to return the fishery to a thriving state. Our commitment is that all seafood sourced will be externally recognized as sustainable or in a formal program moving towards certification by 2025.”
Right now, 71% of the company’s seafood supply is externally recognized as sustainable by a certification system validated by the Global Sustainable Seafood Institute (GSSI) or is moving toward certification by the year 2025.
OEM and suppliers up their CSR game
A more socially responsible mindset is not only growing amongst CPGs. OEMs and suppliers are also developing CSR programs that commit to the well-being of their community and society through environmental and social initiatives. Take for instance Arnold Fastening Systems, an automotive parts supplier out of Rochester Hills, Michigan. The company includes CSR as one of its top five global strategic direction initiatives.
“Some of the practical ways we embrace CSR include eco-friendly designs of our products, processes, and facilities to reduce our carbon footprint, promoting diversity within our workforce, giving back to our local communities, and ensuring business decisions are ethical. More specifically, we are adding hundreds of charging stations globally to replace our entire company vehicle fleet with electric cars. [We are also] defining, tracking, and responding to key diversity KPIs, sponsoring local area schools and organizations, and clearly defining and continuously updating our code of ethics to ensure a common set of rules and standards for all to adhere to,” says Arnold CEO Bill Clark.
Many companies are focusing on both policy and products. Intralox, a leading conveyance solutions provider is undertaking a global, cross-functional initiative to continuously improve the environmental sustainability of its plastic products. The company is also committed to CSR, integrating community investment considerations into its decision making and business practices and assists in local capacity building to develop mutually beneficial relationships with communities.
Intralox says it contributes to its host communities’ quality of life by supporting innovative programs in health, education, social services, the environment, and cultural, civic, and other projects. The company also leads criminal justice reform efforts locally, in its home state of Louisiana.
Emerson, the automation solutions provider, places a strong emphasis on both diversity and sustainability. The company has strong messages regarding modernizing the workplace, as well as supporting education initiatives. In a 2021 letter from the CEO, Lal Karsanbhai shared the company’s vision:
“In 2021, we introduced a goal of doubling representation at the leadership level of women globally and minorities in the U.S. by 2030… We’re also committed to creating positive change in the communities where we live and work. Education is an area of particular importance to us because we know it can be the catalyst to great opportunity for under-resourced communities and minority populations. We are now focusing our giving efforts, pledging $200 million over the next 10 years to organizations that address the vital issue of education inequity, with a particular emphasis on the development of children and youth. This commitment underscores our vision to create a more equitable future for all.”
Both education equity and diversity in the workplace are excellent efforts that offer far-reaching benefits. Diversity, especially, is a very important topic in today’s changing workplace and the very definition is expanding to embrace people of all races, genders, cultures, disabilities, and sexual orientations. Embracing this topic as part of your CSR can go a long way in employee retention and satisfaction.
JLS Automation, a product handling and packing equipment manufacturer, uses several resources and outreaches as part of its position focused on community engagement.
|Read how OEMs are positioning themselves as environmentally-friendly businesses.
“A practical way for any organization to practice corporate social responsibility is to create awareness and educate your team,” says Craig Souser, president and CEO of JLS. “We’ve had multiple speakers such as clergy, police chiefs, and community leaders come to speak to the diversity, equity, and inclusion issue. We’ve created scholarships for students of color, [but] if financial support is not feasible or limited, then donate some time from your team to support local organizations. We’ve done everything from helping clean up a Veteran’s Memorial annually to sponsoring Pride Night at the local minor league baseball team.”
Practical ways to boost CSR
While some of these examples listed above are global initiatives that may only be feasible for large companies, the truth is that any sized company can leverage CSR to satisfy today’s conscious consumer and create a plan to offer better business practices within every facet of the organization. If you’re just starting out on this path, the first step may be to simply introduce and educate your employees about what social responsibility is and how you want to incorporate it into your company's code of ethics. After that, start with small, manageable measures to lessen your environmental impact or boost your social impact. For example, host local social programs like food drives, blood drives, and even community outreaches like sponsoring a local park, or planting trees.
According to the Digital Marketing Institute, the most common forms of CSR include:
· Reducing carbon footprints
· Improving labor policies
· Participating in fair trade
· Diversity, equity, and inclusion
· Charitable global giving
· Community and virtual volunteering
· Corporate policies that benefit the environment
· Socially and environmentally conscious investments
Now more than ever, corporate leadership on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues is imperative. And so is transparency. Consumers today are more aware of social and environmental issues and want to align with companies that are taking a stand through initiatives and policy.
And according to the Digital Marketing Institute, it’s today’s younger generation to thank for this push. The institute reported that Millennials and Generation Z find that socially responsible companies are more important today than ever. They believe companies should invest in improving society and look for solutions that assist in those improvements.
As part of their CSR initiatives, and for the sake of transparency, this age group expects companies of all size, and across industries, to share how they’re trying to make a positive impact on the world, so the public can see their pro-social initiatives. So, consider leveraging social media platforms to help get your CSR message out to your customer base.
Whether you’re a large corporation or a locally owned family business, corporate social responsibility is an important initiative that not only helps gain customer trust but can have far-reaching benefits, impacting global warming, your employees, and the community. Remember, while corporate social responsibility is primarily about giving back, it also plays a role in your brand image, so stepping up your CSR game is one initiative that could have far-reaching benefits for your company and community.