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It has become conventional to view Corporate Social Responsibility as something that a company “ought” to do in response to public pressure. This pressure derives from the growing expectation that companies should make a positive contribution to society alongside their business. Meanwhile, the role of CSR as a powerful management tool is often overlooked. Inherent in CSR is the ability to utilise its benefits to strengthen brand image and company reputation. The financial “burdens” of strengthening corporate social practices are outbalanced by the benefits that employing these schemes can bring to a company. Most notably, integrating CSR into business practices can help to build a sustainable and reputable brand by encouraging support from consumers and the public.
The Benefits of Employing CSR Initiatives
- Enhancing Company Reputation and Building Strong Relationships. Social initiatives may be the key to building a positive and sustainable relationship with consumers. Consumers are placing greater emphasis on ethical social practices, and thus commitments to social responsibility can enhance a company’s reputation in the eyes of the public. Associating a company’s reputation and brand to its positive CSR practices can build a long-lasting impression and build consumer loyalty to the company – an important emphasis, as much of a company’s value, lies in its reputation and brand equity. The generation of approval from consumers and communities provides a strong foundation for building trust and strong relationships. This can enhance the credibility of a company, particularly as individuals are more likely to advertise a company through word of mouth if its business practices reflect their own personal values.
- Increasing Publicity and Distinguishing Oneself from Competitors. Another major benefit is attracting increased publicity of positive social contributions and thus simultaneously gaining some advantage over competitors. CSR initiatives receive a great deal of PR and media coverage, therefore are a great way to advertise a company and its work. The generation of good publicity is especially aided through the creation of closer relationships with consumers and communities, enhancing a company’s reputation. However, it must be noted that utilising CSR initiatives to increase good publicity and make a company stand out will typically work best when the practices and initiatives adopted fit with the company vision and its goals. The programmes that are most beneficial to a company are those that are directly related to its business operations.
- Attracting Investors and Building a Positive Working Environment. In more tangible terms, positive CSR practices can make a company more attractive to investors, who are increasingly attentive to sustainability. A good CSR reputation signals credibility and commitment to building long-term relationships by supporting social causes. Long-term financial benefits can be gained as a result, as well as in response to consumers’ increased loyalty to the company. Furthermore, positive CSR practices have been shown to increase employee morale and satisfaction, leading to a more constructive working environment and enhanced employee engagement.
Taking Inspiration from Global Leaders in CSR
According to the 2017 Global CSR RepTrak 100 study, released by the Reputation Institute, the top 3 companies with the best CSR practices are Lego, Microsoft and Google. This survey ranks companies according to consumer evaluations, and is based on the following 3 factors – workplace (which takes into account employee treatment and the provision of equal opportunities), citizenship (which measures the support for good causes and positive social influence), and governance (which quantifies openness, transparency and ethical behaviour). Notable CSR practices that have helped these companies to build strong reputations for CSR are outlined below.
The global toy manufacturer, which took the lead in the 2017 ranking, saw major growth in profits after focusing on CSR initiatives. This was fuelled by increased media attention to its work and enhanced reputation in the eyes of the public. Most famously, the Lego Foundation was set up as an initiative to reach children who would otherwise not get exposure to play. This foundation focuses on providing children with the ability to learn and develop life skills through play and educational programmes. The success of the Lego Foundation can be attributed primarily to its intimate link with the core LEGO business. An investment of £4 million was similarly made in a study that explores the benefits of playful learning. In environmental terms, LEGO has pushed for a new focus on sustainability, which has resulted in the majority of the waste from its production sites being recycled and has dramatically improved the company’s energy efficiency.
A long-time leader of CSR, Microsoft placed second in the rankings as a result of its contributions towards social responsibility. The company has donated more than $900 million, comprised of both money and software, to non-profit organisations across the world. The donations have been used in an effort to reduce global poverty and inequality. Most recently, Microsoft has made the biggest ever investment into overall employee compensation, leading the way in terms of progressive workplace practices. Environmentally, the global company has reduced its carbon emissions by 30% compared with 2007.
The search giant is well-known for its efforts to improve sustainability, with initiatives such as Google Energy making significant environmental contributions to society. More than $1 billion has so far been invested in renewable energy projects, with a major focus on the goal of reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Google Grants is another prime example CSR. This donation programme awards free AdWords advertising to selected charities to promote their causes, giving these charities a bigger voice. Meanwhile, in the workplace, Google was one of the first tech companies to release its workplace diversity statistics in an effort to promote equality.
The main takeaway from these examples of CSR is that social initiatives are valued by consumers. While these global companies demonstrate practices undertaken on a large scale, CSR initiatives do not have to be overwhelming or overly complicated to be effective. Simply giving back to the local community or promoting equal opportunities in the workplace can already produce noticeable benefits for a company.