What is corporate social responsibility and how does it differ from ESG?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to an organization’s obligations to improve the community, the environment, and promote equity and justice. While it overlaps greatly with ESG—Environmental, Social and Justice—they differ substantially. ESG refers to the outcomes of social and sustainability efforts as measured by stakeholders. CSR, on the other hand, refers to a company’s overall framework of social responsibility practices.
How does social responsibility impact the company?
Clearly, a more prosperous, equitable, sustainable and greener society benefits every individual. Of course, this includes every one of its employees. But taking a well-planned and visibly implemented CSR approach benefits the company, too. For instance, a study conducted by Simon, Kucher & Partners in 2021 found that 85% of people globally have shifted their purchasing decisions toward brands with socially responsible, sustainable models.
Likewise, numerous studies such as those cited in “Research on the Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Consumers’ Purchase Intention” (2021) indicate that a visible CSR framework improves consumer perception of the company and its products.
How do I promote social responsibility within the company?
Just as CSR improves consumer perceptions, it also improves perceptions within your own company ranks. That can boost morale, corporate identity and commitment and reduce turnover. That is, you increase company loyalty with much the same result as increasing customer brand loyalty. Let’s look at some simple, high impact and cost effective ways to enhance your social responsibility at work.
1. Promote workplace diversity and inclusion beyond the hiring process.
Too often, diversity and inclusion initiatives begin in hiring but end after the onboarding process. Annual or monthly harassment and inclusivity modules or seminars may help, but you can make a daily impact, too. For instance:
- Ensure all areas including storage areas are accessible
- Provide time off for religious and other holidays not traditionally observed in the West
- Strengthen and measure anti-discrimination policies
- Consider creating prayer rooms and quiet spaces based on religious or sensory needs
At the digital end, ensure that your IT professionals are available to assist with computer accessibility issues. Similarly, ensure that internal communications such as emails, PDFs and other media meet the same ADA/Accessibility standards as your consumer-facing media. And, of course, ensure that HR remains involved in assisting employees and keeping up-to-date in inclusion initiatives.
2. Involve employees in CSR initiatives.
While broader CSR goals may include progressive hiring policies, working with suppliers equally committed to sustainability and energy-reducing, greener windows and HVAC, these are not initiatives where most employees can participate.
To ensure optimal buy-in, think about local initiatives—starting within your own offices—where co-workers across teams can pitch in. For instance, create a voluntary contribution fund to help fellow employees and their families with unexpected medical costs. Involve them in charitable causes such as food and clothing drives. Provide opportunities for your experts across fields to visit schools serving under-resourced communities for educational presentations or exhibitions. Just as with your company as a whole, you will find that some employees excel at organization while others enjoy recruitment or communications. Everyone will feel better for contributing in their own way to localized social responsibility.
3. Align your green mission and values with your workplace model.
Even when a company commits itself to greener, sustainable living or serving under-resourced communities, those same mission values are often underrepresented in the day-to-day. It can seem at best hypocritical. At worst, it can come across as a ploy.
CSR can be top down, but it should also be bottom up. Replace plastic bottles and paper plates with affordable dishes and cutlery that lasts. Don’t have a kitchen? Provide and encourage the use of lasting steel or aluminum tumblers. Install motion-detection lighting systems to conserve energy in unoccupied rooms. And—this may be a pet peeve of mine—climate control your HVAC system based on the season. I’ve worked at many offices that were so hot in winter, I had to dress in a short-sleeved shirt and so cold in summer, I needed a sweater. Overall, ensure that your offices operate with the same or better socially and environmentally responsible standards you espouse as a company and want for society.
4. Even corporate parties and gift-giving makes a difference.
Holiday parties and other events are common in the workplace. You get to unwind and meet people from departments you don’t normally see on an average workday. Keep religious and ethical dietary demands ordering food. Make vegan, lactose-free and gluten free options available, and keep ethnically-diverse options in mind, too. If possible, mix up options to include wholesome food from local, sustainable and under-resourced growers and producers. Not only will employees appreciate it, but these simple choices will show that your commitment to CSR goes beyond the surface, that it is deep-rooted in every action you take.
Similarly, show your pledge to social responsibility in the corporate gifts you choose for these celebrations and events. Gift box companies such as woman-owned Packed with Purpose specialize in corporate gift boxes curated from small-batch enterprises as dedicated to positive social and environmental impact as you are.
5. Lead by example.
As a manager or corporate leader, you lead by example and inspire your teams in ways that you may not even know. Even among employees who may seem “off-board” or resistant, they are watching you. You motivate and inspire them—alter their opinions and values—at every turn. With such influence and authority, you must lead CSR initiatives by example.
Don’t show up at the offices in a gas-guzzling tank. Don’t join exclusionary clubs that are more about status than providing social benefits Do match fundraising initiatives and rainy day funds. Do roll up your sleeves and serve meals at the next fundraiser. At your next presentation, drink from a glass or company-branded tumbler rather than a plastic bottle. Become your brand, including the CSR message you mean to send. Your staff will not only see you as more authentic, thus building trust. They will also feel obligated to live up to your example. As small as these gestures may seem, they reach throughout the corporation and soon, beyond.