If you are reading this it’s likely that you are already well plugged in to social and environmental responsibility topics and are well versed in the latest research and evidence of why this is so important to consumers, employees, businesses and shareholders alike. You probably know that 84% of consumers try to purchase socially responsible and environmentally friendly goods and services whenever possible. You fully appreciate that the future success of business will not be measured on profit alone and as Millennials and Generation Z make up more and more of your workforce and your customers, CSR will become a differentiator for your products and services, a reason for staff to work for you and the reason you are still in business in ten years’ time.
These arguments are far from being old hat and I believe there is still a long way to go to educate businesses in making the most of their CSR strategies and practices, but if you are still trying to convince someone in your workplace as to why they should care about these issues and start to change the way they do business perhaps these 4 trends may finally help you achieve the lightbulb moment.
- Your competition is already using CSR as a differentiator
Perhaps this is obvious when you review such brands as Unilever, Patagonia and Marks & Spencers (Plan A) who are each already well on their way to becoming world leaders in their respective fields for social and environmental responsibility. Your colleague may not budge when regarded next to these brands as they are leaders and too far ahead to catch. But, if you look closer there is a much larger group of aspirational brands who are making fantastic public pledges to make their business more responsible.
Take Levi’s for example. They are embracing the cradle to cradle model for their jeans and you can now take any of your old clothes to Levis stores in the US and they will reuse, repurpose or recycle them with their partner I:CO. They are considering product lifetime value alongside customer lifetime value to effectively shift consumer behaviour towards a more circular economy.
Or how about Heineken. They have committed to buying 50% of their raw materials from sustainable sources by 2020. Better still they have launched a digital campaign to inform their customers called Legendary 7 which follows seven farmers from across Europe who produce sustainable barley and hops.
- Powerful social media companies are influencing your stakeholders more than you think
It’s no surprise that companies such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Pandora are shaping new marketing strategies which leverage the power of the social graph, particularly people’s communities, their beliefs and interests. Director of Operations and Strategy at Snapchat, Steve Hwang emphasised this last week:
“Authenticity is really important, and I don’t mean in terms of pretending to be someone’s Facebook friend. There is a ton of opportunity for brands to be more involved on a more local level in the real world”.
As these companies ‘compete’ more intensely with one another they will increasingly come up with new ways of leveraging their social, local and mobile strengths and set the tone for engaging with communities at all touchpoints, including CSR.
- Government spending cuts means less money available for community spaces, and businesses will be expected to step in to the breach
Without politicising the point too much, it is clear that the overriding message for this next parliament is to reduce an individuals’ reliance on the state and ask that businesses do more to support their workforce. This is highly evident with the living wage legislation but also with a comment from the Prime Minister during the election campaign stating that employers should provide days off for staff who wish to do voluntary work. Legislation exists in the form of Section 106’s which require developer contributions to the community to make a development proposal acceptable in planning terms, and if further evidence is needed to illustrate the shift towards businesses supporting communities it’s the 2020 ‘graph of doom’ which shows Government discretionary spending on services like parks is set to fall by 60% in the next decade.
More powerfully, public opinion is also swaying towards businesses doing more in the communities in which they operate. With the majority of consumers expecting companies to do more than make a profit it stands to reason that one of the ways they can do this is to support the communities in which they operate and provide funding for projects which used to come from the Government.
- The rise of collaboration
There is some wonderful research from Clay Shirky which highlights just how much free time we have in our modern lives to commit to collaborative projects. It is estimated that there are 1 TRILLION hours of free time globally which Shirky calls a cognitive surplus and can easily be put to better use. It’s not that we have more free time, but we allocate our free time to things like watching TV which can be better utilised for doing well in our communities.
True, it will take a big incentive to persuade people to take some of this ‘me time’ and allocate it to other projects but we have seen this happen with Wikipedia and more and more collaborative projects (people offering free translation of web pages for example) are becoming mainstream. Another thought leader in this space is Dean Kamen who argues that free cultures get what they celebrate. If we begin to better reward civic value then collaborative projects will really start to take off and change society.
From a corporate perspective business leaders recognise that they need to work together if they are to make a measurable difference in society and I believe we will see greater collaboration in the future between corporations to tackle the biggest issues of our time. It’s not hard to imagine a clothes manufacturer committing to cutting down the amount of water used in production teaming up with a washing detergent brand and water company to reduce the impact of harmful chemicals in our waste water and educating people with better water management practices. We hear from leaders all the time that this approach is ‘pre-competitive’ and as such usually guarded corporates will be open to transparent and collaborative partnerships.
A varied audience needs a varied argument
As stated dear reader, you are the enlightened one. You are the change maker who is taking on the challenge of educating your colleagues and making social and environmental responsibility more visible throughout your organisation. We appreciate that in any given company these issues sit somewhere between PR, Operations, HR, Marketing and CSR departments each with their individual success criteria for your efforts. The fantastic news is that through greater visibility, transparency and collaboration you can bring these departments together and prove the benefit of social and environmental responsibility for all. And if you still need to convince certain corners of your organisation about amplifying your work perhaps one of these four trends may just help. I wish you the very best of luck!
Lloyd Buxton, Head of Client Engagement, neighbourly
 2015 CONE Communications Global CSR Study  www.levistrauss.com/unzipped-blog/2014/01/lets-progress-with-less-together/  www.theheinekencompany.com/media/features/heineken-legendary-7-campaignt5  http://kingkong.com.au/top-makreting-insights-from-facebook-snapchat-twitter-and-pandora/  www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/from-graph-of-doom-to-full-bloom