Corporate Social Responsibility

by Becky Toal and Veronica Broomes

Brand and reputation

The brand and reputation of a business are based on what people think about it. In terms of CSR, it is the public perception of issues such as

  • How the business treats its staff
  • Its reputation concerning caring for the environment
  • Payment of fair prices for production of products
  • Compliance with the International Labour Organisation’s guidance on labour standards, especially in not employing child labour in the production process
  • Its reputation of caring for the wider community
  • Leadership of the business
  • The overall quality and cost of its products and services in association with its financial performance.

For a business, its brand and reputation among the customer base is fundamentally linked to overall profitability, and this is especially true for those businesses selling directly to the consumer.

There are many reasons why, as consumers, we choose one service provider or product over others, and the ethical credentials of the supplier are an increasingly important consideration. This reflects the rise of ethical consumerism.

In April 2009, Ipsos MORI conducted an online survey of more than 23,000 consumers in 23 countries. In the UK, 70 per cent of respondents stated that, when choosing a product or service, an important consideration was that the company showed a high degree of social responsibility. Here’s a strong argument for bringing CSR into the mainstream, and it’s useful information for the marketing department.

The trend to ethical consumerism is well established and the surveys show that it is accelerating. The response from business is mixed.

  • Some companies are doing very little, though this is seen by business analysts as increasingly suicidal thinking, especially for larger companies that sell directly to end consumers.
  • Some companies are embracing CSR and making it a key component of their inclusive business strategy, even though they are targeting all consumers and not just those who are ‘CSR friendly’. See the Case study on Innocent.
  • Some companies are founded on a business that depends on the trends. See the Case study on Redeem.

Another aspect of this trend to ethical consumerism is that companies which do ‘step out of line’ suffer far more brand damage than would have been the case in the past. This is in part due to the speed with which news stories can propagate in the media and on the internet via blogs and sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. It is clear that companies need to be ever vigilant that they are not transgressing the evolving standards set by the consumer. Companies need to be up to speed with what the general public considers important, and should be continually checking their practices against these ‘rules’.

Actions any manager can take

Changing or enhancing brand and reputation needs more than just doing something. It also requires that people come to know about it. So what can you do as a manager that will enhance the public’s perception of your organisation’s CSR credentials?

Within the local community

Think about both your customer base and the local community from which you source employees, and consider what is important to them about CSR. This is where you should be focusing your efforts when you are thinking about the brand and reputation aspects of CSR. Ask them what they would like to see you do on behalf of the organisation. Even the act of asking is an indication to people that you have CSR on your agenda.

  • What community projects could you undertake or contribute time and effort to? These could be things like using your resources to upgrade a local playground, clean out a local pond or park or add some facilities to a local library or youth centre.
  • What could you do to help school leavers by way of work experience?
  • How could you support fund raising for the local church or hospital?
  • What could you do to reduce the organisation’s environmental impact?
  • Could you combine with another local organisation to increase the scope of possible activities?

As a way of bringing these activities to wider attention, consider what awards you could apply for on the basis of engagement on environmental and community issues.

Beyond the popular areas of employers giving their employees’ time through volunteering in a local community/project or making a financial donation, companies can make a strong business case for bringing CSR thinking into environmental and marketing activities. For example, recycling printer cartridges through a local charity or school can earn the charity or school income when these are collected by a waste collection/recycling company. Another example is payment by companies to local charities for team-building days in which employees volunteer on a specific charity project and pay for the experience.

Your scope for activity will depend on your level within management and the size of your organisation, but we would suggest that you can probably do far more than you might think. Ask your staff what they as a team would like to do. You will be surprised at what is suggested and, if you follow up on it, at the benefits to morale and team spirit.

Courses are available, both formal and informal, explaining how businesses can apply CSR. Many of the shorter versions are general awareness-raising workshops, aimed at decision-makers who are responsible for CSR as part of their job and who could benefit from a broader understanding of ways to help their company interpret CSR for strong business benefits. Such courses also provide tips on how to get buy-in for CSR at all levels of the organisation and to promote meaningful engagement of staff in the process.

Further ideas and charity projects that can provide mutual benefit for the charity and the business/sponsor can be found at www.corporateregister.com.