Over the last three decades companies have embraced corporate social responsibility, broadening their vision of the bottom line, to the so-called ‘triple bottom line’, people, planet and profit. Corporate success has been redefined, for the benefit of all.
Mike Ramsay, Director of Alliance Group International, the world’s largest international insurance and financial services intermediary, said “Our group has achieved consistently high growth over the last 3 years, so we have both the capability and responsibility to reinvest in local and global communities.”
Many corporations express similar sentiments, but only apply CSR models that will deliver ancillary benefits to the corporation.
It’s widely acknowledged that corporate social responsibility can improve public image, influence consumer buying decisions and boost recruitment, retention and engagement of employees. For these reasons, corporate social responsibility is now integral to corporate strategy and has become an industry in itself. According to Charity Navigator, in the USA alone, corporations gave $18.55 billion to charitable causes in 2016.
In today’s climate, throwing money at good causes isn’t enough. The increasing trend of ethical consumerism has raised the bar for corporate social responsibility, as customers become more aware of their own power and impact as consumers.
Companies must be more inventive and ambitious, adopting business practices that neutralise the environmental and social impacts of production. More than ever, companies must demonstrate that they are making a meaningful investment in positive change.
Models that create cost savings
Energy consumption is not only a global concern, it’s a business efficiency issue. Energy conservation is at the heart of CSR activities for many companies, like Adobe, who aspires to power all their operations and digital delivery with 100% renewable electricity by 2035.
Adobe has installed 20 wind turbines in their San Jose headquarters and was the first Fortune 500 company to manage energy through ‘Stem’ the world’s smartest energy storage network.
Newsweek named Adobe the Greenest IT company in the world in 2014. Michelle Crozier Yates, Adobe’s director of corporate responsibility, said, “This ranking is a clear recognition of our deep commitment to managing our environmental impact and to the transparency of our operations.”
With virtually the whole world united on the Paris Agreement, measurement and corporate transparency of corporate environmental impact is important. Companies can now benefit from objective measurement and benchmarking of their energy usage through the CEMARS programme, an internationally accredited greenhouse gas certification scheme under ISO 14065.
Models that differentiate your brand
In a context of rising ethical consumerism, buyers want more information on the environmental and social impacts of production. In the 1990s, Corporate Social Responsibility was an effective tool to differentiate a brand from competitors. Today it’s a minimum requirement for consumer buy-in. Consumers understand that every purchase is an endorsement, so they seek assurance that supply chains are free from the gruesome realities of any human rights, environmental or animal abuses.
In order to stand out in this new market, Corporate Social Responsibility is often at the forefront and not a side line of the business.
Tom’s Shoes was set up with a philanthropic mission. It’s known as the ‘one for one’ company, because for every pair of Tom’s Shoes sold, Blake Mycoskie, the founder and ‘chief shoe giver’, donates a pair of shoes to a child in need. Eleven years later, over 60 million shoes have been donated.
Models that promote employee engagement
Employees are more engaged when they perceive that their company shares their moral compass. For this reason, it’s commonplace for organisations to feature corporate philanthropy in their internal communications and some of the most successful charities have been the beneficiary of this approach.
For example, corporations have been pivotal to the success of Christmas Jumper Day (Save the Children), Movember (Movember for Men’s Health) and The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning (MacMillan). These charities provide marketing toolkits to make participation in the events fun and effortless; countless companies mobilise their workforce every year with little more than a printed poster, blue tac and a camera to capture the moment.
Participating in these flagship annual fundraising activities may send a positive surge through the workforce and temporarily improve employee morale, but the effects are fleeting.
Many companies have invested their own money into a more sustainable CSR approach, introducing policies to support the charitable activities of their own employees. For instance, Verizon matches donations up to $5,000 annually to educational institutions and up to $1,000 annually to all other non-profits. Boeing provides a $250 grant for every 25 hours of volunteering (max $6,000).
This is an inventive CSR model designed to align completely with the values of employees, however it doesn’t assert a company’s own values.
Models that are values-based
Companies seeking to drive positive change and make a statement about their moral fibre must take the lead and set their own agenda. If that agenda is unrelated to their core business activities, it is more likely to be perceived as altruistic and therefore more authentic.
Buyers are increasingly sceptical of publicity about corporate social responsibility; they see corporations ‘greenwashing’ their products with token sustainability initiatives designed to distract from ugly truths about supply chains and production.
While many companies have leveraged their in-house expertise on CSR projects which either improve business efficiency or public perception about their products, others have set an agenda that can only be driven by passion, not by profit.
For example, Alliance Group International Limited has taken the bold step of setting up their own charity to tackle a rising trend of child slavery and exploitation. Alliance Aid International aims to bring an end to child trafficking. Since the charity is fully financed by Alliance Group, all donations received by the charity go directly into action to investigate cases, liberate children and educate the public.
According to Charity Watch, ‘average charities’ spend only 56-60% of their revenue on the cause itself – the rest is spent on operating costs and fundraising. Since the costs of Alliance Aid International are covered by Alliance Group, the charity can use 100% of donations to deliver the heaviest blow to traffickers.
Alliance Group’s ground-breaking approach to Corporate Social Responsibility rings with a refreshing sense of authenticity and tackles an issue everyone can get behind.
Ramsay explained “We serve clients in over 189 countries, and we, like most people, are distressed by this rising global issue. Thanks to our strong growth over the past 3 years, we are capable of taking a lead on fundraising, mobilising resources and rescuing these vulnerable children.”
By setting up Alliance Aid, Alliance Group International has turned a corner and redefined corporate social responsibility. Perhaps now is the moment when corporations lead a new consumer movement for positive change.