What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to you?
According to the United Nations, Corporate Social Responsibility is “a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders”.
CSR, in its early years, mostly revolves around cheque-writing for charities or environmental efforts like tree-planting. But it has evolved over the years and expanded into more areas of impact and social innovation. While it is applaudable that more companies are putting more emphasis on addressing social issues and causes, it also increased pressure to “dress up CSR as a business discipline” (HBR, 2015). This made companies feel obligated to give back to society and carry out CSR in order to fulfill the pressure weighing on them.
Not only did CSR evolve over the years, human behaviour did too. It is reported that the younger generations are more socially aware and driven to care for the environment and social causes. They engage in more philanthropic acts, which explains their preference for socially responsible companies. Based on a Randstad Workmonitor research, it shows that 3 in 4 singapore employees prefer to work for a company with a strong CSR programme. An OCBC Bank survey in 2019 also reported that some 72% of young people find it important to give back and help others.
Millennials take up a large majority of the workforce and together with their mindset shift in social responsibility, companies are ramping up their CSR efforts in order to engage, hire and retain the young population. The obligation to perform and deliver results from their initiatives have distracted companies from the main motive of CSR, which is to align a company’s “doing good” projects with its business strategy and core values.
“A thriving CSR program is one that’s closely tied to the culture of a company, as well as being in the letter of its policies and guidelines. Successful CSR can be felt in your products and services, your customer experience, your charitable activities, how your staff behave and the kind of people you hire.” says Lauren, a principal consultant for Qualtrics and we couldn't agree more with this statement.
From Xerox to Patagonia, some of the big names are practicing what they preach in their CSR programmes and what’s a better way to grow from your CSR model than learning from their successful ones. Here are 3 companies doing Corporate Social Responsibility right:
The printing giant not only excels in its business, but also in its commitment to create a more sustainable world. In 2018, Xerox was named as One of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for the 12th consecutive times. They were also included in America’s most JUST companies for 2 years in a row. With such credentials, it is no doubt that Xerox places emphasis on its Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.
According to their 2019 CSR report, they mentioned that “Design for Sustainability” has always been one of their main focuses as they recognise the environmental, social, and economic effects caused by their products. Hence, they have invested heavily into Research and Development to design more sustainable products and to minimise the use of toxic materials. As part of their waste-free initiatives, they have developed “a comprehensive end-of-life product takeback system”, which identifies parts of the products that can be remanufactured, refurbished, reused, recycled and resold. This facilitates multiple product life cycles as their materials can be constantly utilised over and over again, reducing wastage contributed to the landfills.
In addition to their own waste-free efforts, Xerox also participated in several European Union member state Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) programmes. They were able to divert 8,600 metric tons of equipment and parts-related waste from landfills to their U.S. Reverse Logistic Center for recycling.
Due to their responsible e-waste and end-of-life management, Xerox managed to receive the U.S. EPA Sustainable Materials Management GOLD Award for the 3rd time in a row. This speaks volume about their accountability to the environment, which strongly resonates with one of their values that states “We behave responsibly as a corporate citizen”. This brings us back to our point where we mentioned that a company’s CSR projects have to be aligned with its business strategy and core values. Xerox has shown the world how an exemplary CSR initiative should be carried out.
This company made denim jeans an ubiquitous piece of clothing and they are on their way to make water conservation an ubiquitous process in the manufacturing industry as well. Many organisations work towards treating the problem caused by their products as part of their CSR initiatives, but Levi’s believes in prevention.
In 2007, they started researching and assessing their products’ impact on the environment so that they were able to create a more sustainable method in their manufacturing process. They started their analysis with their most iconic pair of Levi’s 501 jeans. Working with third-party organisations, Levi’s found out that more than 3000 liters of water were used during the full product cycle of one pair of jeans — from cotton in the ground, washing of jeans, to the eventual disposal of the product.
Levi’s has always prided themselves in taking the "profits through principles" approach but their current method of creating jeans does not sit well with their mission statement. Hence, they set themselves the task to create the same pair of iconic jeans but with lesser water. This task was then transformed into their Water<Less initiative.
Investing their time and efforts into their Research and Development sector, their designers managed to come up with 20 innovative techniques to use less water in the production of their jeans. One example was to tumble golf balls and bottle caps to achieve their soft felt jeans, in replacement of using fabric softener with water. Both methods achieve the same effect but the former one uses less water. Once their techniques were proven effective, they began implementing the Water<Less process into their design and manufacturing pipeline. They were able to reduce up to 96% of the water normally used in denim finishing, saving 3 billion liters of water and recycling more than 1.5 billion liters of water. By 2019, 69% of their bottoms were made with the Water<Less techniques. They even open sourced their innovation to other manufacturing companies so that all of them can work towards reducing water wastage.
Levi’s efforts to conserve water is truly admirable as they were committed to identifying the underlying environmental effects caused by their manufacturing processes and rectifying it. This is closely tied with their mission and vision statements which embodies a model example of a CSR initiative.
The outdoor clothing and gear company is no stranger to us especially when they made headlines in 2017 for suing the United States government and President Donald Trump after they have proposed to reduce two national monuments by 85%. As an environmental activist, Patagonia has always been vocal and transparent about their beliefs.
Apart from integrating sustainability into their clothing, they have contributed heavily to environmental causes in terms of corporate philanthropy. For more than 30 years, the socially responsible company has been donating 1% of their annual sales to charities and grassroot organisations. According to CSR central, it mentioned that Patagonia views these contributions as “one of their standard costs of doing business and something that is as much a core element of Patagonia as selling shirts and jackets”.
While the other 2 companies mentioned above strive to protect the environment with preventative and treatment methods, Patagonia leads the pack by engaging and deploying like-minded activists to champion issues in the areas of lands, water, climate, communities, and biodiversity. They have given over $100 million to grantees since 1985 so that they can come together to take actions on environmental issues. Instead of an individualistic approach, this outdoor company believes in a collective effort to bring about change.
Patagonia has also ventured into new business models to better realise their values and beliefs. They became one of the first California companies to register as a B Corporation in 2012. This gives them the freedom to pursue more environmental activism without the legal requirement of delivering maximum returns to their shareholders.
From their clothing to their CSR projects, their mission statement “We’re in business to save our home planet” is constantly at the back of their minds and their actions serve as a representation to that very statement they made.
Similar to Patagonia, Make The Change is also a B Corp certified business in Singapore. This certification allows us to continuously measure and improve our accountability and responsibility to our people, our clients, and our planet. It also serves as a constant reminder that the impact we make has to be related to our tagline “Empowering and Transforming Communities Through Design”.
In conclusion, a successful CSR is one that is aligned to the company’s values and business strategy.
It is easy to tell others what your company believes in, but to fulfill that belief requires commitment and responsibility. Time and money have to be invested into curating a CSR initiative that is answerable to the company’s values. This is why many businesses opt for a more effortless alternative instead, which include one-off volunteering work or donations.
Make The Change can help you venture into sustainable CSR projects that are interlinked to your company’s principles. Leveraging on our network and experience, we will brainstorm and co-create CSR initiatives with you to create long term social and environmental impacts. If you are looking to create real change like the big 3 companies mentioned above, drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, we would love to work with you.