A quick guide to implementing Corporate Social Responsibility policies

Best Practices ESG Sustainability Reporting
  • August 23, 2021 | Chris Ogletree
A quick guide to implementing Corporate Social Responsibility policies

A quick guide to implementing Corporate Social Responsibility policies

For companies looking to optimize their positive effect on the social and environmental systems in which they operate, developing a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy is a fundamental starting place. CSR policies can also help firms align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and reach the Paris Agreement's target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Business leaders understand that a strong ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) profile is critical to a company's financial health and identity, and a healthy CSR program is a key ingredient. Being a socially responsible corporation can promote a company's image and brand, as well as reassure customers and investors about ethical and environmentally friendly business operations, boost employee morale, and increase workplace productivity.

According to Boston Consulting Group, businesses that are considered leaders in ESG criteria have an 11% valuation premium over their competitors. Strong CSR policies can help ESG efforts by ensuring that a company acts ethically, respects human rights, and is aware of and positively addresses its social, economic, and environmental impact.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility is a self-regulatory business model that enables a corporation to be socially accountable to its stakeholders and the general public. By implementing a CSR policy, companies can become more aware of their economic, social, and environmental impact on all parts of society. In the end, CSR is about giving back to the community, participating in philanthropic initiatives, and adding positive societal value.

CSR policies should reinforce a company’s accountability to their customers, investors, staff, local communities, and the environment as they weave corporate responsibility efforts across the business landscape and employee experience.

To do this, CSR policies include six primary types of corporate social initiatives:

  • Corporate philanthropy: Company donations to charity, including cash, goods, and services, sometimes via a corporate foundation
  • Community volunteering: Company-organized volunteer activities, for which an employee may or may not receive pay
  • Socially responsible business practices: Ethically produced products that appeal to a customer segment
  • Cause promotions & activism: Company-funded advocacy campaigns
  • Cause-related marketing: Donations to charity based on product sales
  • Corporate social marketing: Company-funded behavior-change campaigns

Why implement CSR?

CSR is vital for the community, but it is also important for businesses. Employees and organizations can form a stronger bond through CSR initiatives, which can enhance morale and make both employees and employers feel more connected to the world around them. Many businesses consider CSR to have a significant impact on their brand image, recognizing that younger customers prefer to do business with ethical companies.

As millennials become employees, buyers, and investors, they’re taking note of positive corporate action and rewarding them with loyalty. A BoF & McKinsey State of Fashion report estimated 60% of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable.

CSR initiatives can also play a significant role in a company's public relations strategy and marketing efforts. Companies are utilizing CSR strategies to boost the value of intangible assets as a result of increased global rivalry, increased media clutter, and less differentiation in brand.

Because of this, brands must be inspirational to their stakeholders while also being socially responsible. CSR not only raises consumer awareness of a business but also builds a favorable brand image in the minds of future customers.

What is the impact of CSR?

CSR helps build successful business strategies. Many companies have improved the environmental sustainability of their operations by implementing CSR initiatives, such as installing renewable energy sources or purchasing carbon offsets. Efforts have also been made to eliminate dependency on unethical labor practices, such as child labor, in supply chain management.

CSR also has an impact on a company's capacity to attract top talent, as well as employee job satisfaction and retention. Quality employees want to work for firms that are committed to doing good while also earning a profit. Employees who work for companies that practice CSR are reportedly happier and have increased satisfaction in the workplace. Employers with a clear and effective CSR strategy can attract the next generation of workers now entering the workforce. Companies that fail to emphasize a CSR plan risk losing top talent to those who do.

Additionally, the importance of CSR has been affected by the rise of social media. Companies that engage in unethical business activities are now widely publicized on social media, and their reputations can be severely harmed instantly. Alternatively, social media may be used to promote organizations that practice CSR or have ethical business practices, which can result in greater sales, a wider audience reach, and free favorable publicity.

Tools for creating a CSR policy

A strong CSR policy should aim to integrate a company's social and environmental initiatives with its corporate mission and values. As a result, CSR efforts reduce risks, improve reputation, and contribute to commercial outcomes.

Creating a cohesive CSR plan helps companies maximize their positive influence on the social and environmental systems in which they operate. The first step in aligning a CSR plan to company operations is to list and audit existing activities. The Harvard Business Review recommends categorizing CSR activities under three primary umbrellas in order to create an effective plan: philanthropy, operational effectiveness, and business model transformation.

Philanthropy programs are not intended to generate revenues or boost business performance directly. Instead, these activities encourage positive social impact, such as monetary or equipment donations to civic organizations, participation in community initiatives, and staff volunteerism.

Operational effectiveness
These activities complement existing business models by delivering social or environmental benefits in ways that enhance a company's operations along the value chain, typically enhancing efficiency and effectiveness. In turn, they have the potential to increase revenue, decrease costs, or both. Sustainability measures that minimize resource consumption, waste, or emissions, and improvements in employee working conditions, health care, or education are just a few examples.

Business model transformation
CSR programs aid in the development of new business models that are expressly designed to address social or environmental issues. This transformation requires the achievement of social or environmental goals and improved commercial success, which should be quantified and communicated in public reports.

Companies can also use tools like the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) voluntary standards to aid in the implementation of a CSR plan. Because the nature of CSR is more qualitative than quantitative and its standards cannot be certified, ISO 26000 provides advice on creating CSR policies rather than regulations.

ISO 26000 defines social responsibility and assists businesses in putting CSR concepts into practice. The standards apply to all types of businesses, regardless of their size, activity, or location. ISO 26000 represents an international consensus because it was developed with the help of numerous major stakeholders from throughout the world.

Looking ahead

To be socially responsible, a firm must first be accountable to itself and its shareholders. Companies that implement CSR programs frequently have grown to the point where they can give back to society. Thus, CSR is primarily a strategy of large corporations. However, small firms can also participate in CSR through smaller-scale initiatives such as donating to local charities and sponsoring local events. In this way, CSR strategies can assist both large and small firms improve their reputation and accountability.

Customers and investors want to engage with reliable companies. Businesses must exercise Corporate Social Responsibility in order to be competitive in today's economy, which is becoming increasingly intertwined with social and environmental challenges. Those who don't will struggle to attract and keep great personnel, see revenues decline, and risk damaged reputations.

ESG materiality assessments

With investors inquiring more and more frequently about what your company is doing in regard to responsible investment, how you treat employees and vendors, your dedication to sustainability initiatives, and other activities that fall under the ESG umbrella, it’s important to have answers to these questions.

An ESG materiality assessment empowers you to easily report on your current state and outline future initiatives while taking into consideration your business goals and risks. Download our guide to creating and extracting the maximum strategic value from an ESG materiality assessment.

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Chris Ogletree

In his role as Inbound Marketing Manager, Chris oversees website administration & development of a wide range of content, including email campaigns, social media, & marketing collateral, as well as supporting improvements to the design & functionality of the platform.

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