There’s an ongoing transformation in the very way companies define their corporate social responsibility programs. The messages are different, the goals are different, and, to be sure, the strategies are different.
Consider two recent studies.
One report by the Havas Media Lab underscores this transformation with a list based on a survey of 50,000 consumers worldwide who identified the companies they feel have the most “meaningful” CSR. The 10 top names included Unilever and Bimbo, Ikea and Leroy Merlin, as well as consumer technology companies like Samsung and Sony. As the Lab’s director Umair Haque quips, they’re not “necessarily the do-gooding corporate entities you might expect.”
This article originally appeared on Richard Levick’s The Communicators Blog on the Forbes website.
In lieu of such “do-gooding,” Haque talks about CSR as a way to connect to the personal well-being of customers. Nike+ is a prime example. “Instead of putting up another campaign of billboards with celebrities saying, ‘Buy our shoes’…Nike+ actually helps makes you a better runner,” he says.
In other instances, companies underscore their commitment by taking substantive risks. Early last year, for example, Unilever CEO Paul Polman really spoke the language of CSR as value – not just donations – when he made an ambitious sustainability and anti-hunger plan an investment prerequisite. “If you don’t buy into this [program], I respect you as a human being, but don’t put your money in our company, he said.
It’s easy for consumers to read this resolve as a personal message to them: that we as a company are guided by the same determination to produce beneficial impacts for you – not just the direct beneficiaries of our CSR largesse – even at the cost of a few big shareholders.
Many of the highly ranked CSR programs on the Havas list predictably feature green initiatives, often, as with Leroy Merlin, highlighting how the company’s own employees personally volunteer in repair and recycling efforts around the world. Here too, with this volunteerism, we’re a long way from the passive check-writing that defined the old CSR.
The message to consumers is, again, personal. Since these Leroy Merlin people commit themselves, their own time and sweat, to these responsibility programs, it’s no reach to infer that they do the same when they manufacture the home improvement products that have a direct impact on our lives.
In another report, Pike Research found that “the closer the company’s business is related to consumer electronics, the higher its CSR score.” Companies like IBM, HP and Texas Instruments topped the charts for transparency and reported results. For starters, their sustainability initiatives have impressed consumers, the report suggests.
These sector-leading companies have pushed hard to highlight their greater focus on enhanced sustainable design, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end-of-use management. The message is, our products are socially responsible across a broad spectrum of consumer needs, beginning with the benign impact they have on the world in which they’re used.
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