Decades of research has proven the correlation between human behavior and its impact on the ecosystem drives consumers’ buying habits. People want to support (and buy from) companies with a sustainability mission and a clear corporate social responsibility (CSR) statement. In Submittable’s study on the rising demand for CSR, a whopping 94% of surveyed millennials would buy from a company with an excellent CSR program, and 73% would pay extra for sustainable products.
We know you might say, “Our organization has a sustainability program.” Nonetheless, does it reflect your current sustainability efforts and align with your company’s overall goals? Is it easily accessible on your website? Are you recognized by one – or more – international environmental protection organization (for example, 1% for the Planet – more on that here)?
This Earth Day, we’re here to guide you through these critical questions to make you look your best.
Many consumers, employees and other stakeholders are genuinely interested in the social responsibility your business upholds and look to your CSR statement to determine what your business is or isn’t doing to address climate change, reduce emissions and impact other societal challenges. In fact, millennials and Gen Z, who drive buying patterns through social media and digital content, are confidently speaking out against companies that lack CSR programs and action behind those plans.
Why a CSR program is Important for Your Business
A CSR program is a vital component of your company’s culture. Highlighting your organization’s efforts to uphold social responsibility informs your audience of the people behind your products or services. It shows that your business contributes positively and selflessly to the planet. And in many cases, you’ll find clients, investors and future employees with related interests or passion for similar causes will appreciate your efforts.
In a 2020 Aflac survey, 60% of respondents agree that large companies play a role in protecting the environment, and 43% think large companies should address climate change. Further, a study performed by IBM showed that over 70% of respondents who checked “sustainability is important to them” agreed they would pay more for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible (just like in Submittable’s study!).
Bottom line: CSR benefits the planet, the world and your business. Here are the steps to take to effectively communicate your corporate social responsibility program:
1. Ensure your program aligns with your company
Gone are the days of simply going “paperless” and giving yourself a pat on the back. A meaningful CSR program looks at all of the ways your company impacts society and the environment and identifies how you can enhance these touchpoints.
For example, Starbucks is committed to using ethically sourced coffee and supporting a global network of farmers. Pfizer dedicates many of its CSR initiatives to providing health care for people in underserved areas around the world. And clothing brand Universal Standard, which focuses its brand on size inclusivity, developed a new manufacturing method to create better fitting clothes across a wider range of sizes. The brand also prioritizes diversity amongst its models.
2. Set meaningful yet realistic goals
You may remember in 2015 when two large retailers failed to meet a number of their lofty goals around reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What should have been a noble effort to improve the environment instead turned into a PR nightmare, with media coverage focused more on what was missed versus the impacts the companies did make.
While it’s essential to set and communicate CSR goals to stakeholders, companies must use data and preemptively outline their programs to ensure they’re able to meet the goals they set. The purpose of a CSR program is to make a meaningful impact on society. Companies that set unattainable goals for publicity and then fail to deliver will lose the trust of consumers, employees, shareholders and more. On the other hand, companies that set realistic goals – and achieve those goals – will earn more trust from their stakeholders.
3. Stick to the facts
Positive publicity regarding a CSR program is an added benefit but should not be the main driver of companies’ social responsibility efforts. Companies that are overly promotional or vague in their communications can come across as disingenuous.
When communicating information about a CSR program on a business website or to the media, a brand should stick to factual, data-backed details. For example, if a company sets a goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2025, it should share what percentage of its energy use is renewable today and how it will reach 100%. By emphasizing a program’s goals, the steps taken to reach each goal and the progress towards each goal, a company can authentically and accurately promote its CSR program.
4. Consider your audience and channels
A webpage and report are good places to start to outline a CSR program. However, going the extra mile and extending communications to other marketing channels can help a company proactively reach a wider range of its stakeholders. Blog posts, email messages, social media posts and media campaigns are all appropriate channels to share updates on a CSR program.
Importantly, when considering each channel, a company should tailor the message for that channel. For example, social media is a place for two-way conversations. You can use your social media posts to offer ways for customers to get involved in the effort, such as providing tips on how to reduce energy consumption when using your company’s products.
5. Embrace brand ambassadors
Beyond sharing CSR efforts on owned channels, most companies have brand ambassadors who may also want to share these initiatives on their own platforms. Arm your ambassadors with resources about how your company helps reduce carbon emissions in the planet, which they can share with family and friends and on social media. Or, if you work with social media influencers, provide them with information on how your product ties back to CSR efforts – such as new merchandise made with recycled materials or produced through a fair-trade program. As we noted above, companies that invest in social responsibility drive more stakeholders to support them. So, those stakeholders already aligned with your brand will likely be excited to share the meaningful impact your company is making.
While it’s no longer a “nice to have,” a company’s CSR program can quickly turn into a crisis if it’s not created and communicated strategically. (Though, if that happens, The Agency at Sikich can help.) When done well, there are many benefits to a corporate social responsibility program – customer loyalty, employee engagement and, most importantly, a positive impact on society.