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CSR Is More Than Just A Pretty Face

Several years ago, one of my media friends who covers Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) news said that every December, piles of press and photo releases would be on her desk, and her inbox would be flooded with emails.

Suddenly, every company, along with their families and neighbors, was participating in a tree-planting activity or donating to nursing homes. Many businesses would issue press releases in the hopes of gaining media attention. When she asked why companies waited until the end of the year to highlight their CSR initiatives, she became irritated. “However many photos of tree-planting activities am I going to print?” she moaned.

CSR, or Sustainability, as the term is commonly used by businesses today, has become an integral part of many businesses, with many spending millions of dollars on various CSR programs each year. These include, for example, assisting local communities, donating products to those in need, and investing in ways to reduce environmental impacts.

Evolution of CSR

CSR has evolved and is no longer tucked away under corporate communications to be dug out at the end of the year and added to a report or published as a media release.

CSR reflects a company’s core business strategy and aims to effect positive social and environmental change. This is why CSR should be aligned with a company’s mission, vision, and values, and it should engage both stakeholders and employees so that they feel proud to work for a company that is concerned not only with profits but also with the well-being of the community. Writing a check to an orphanage or making a one-time donation to a local charity is no longer sufficient.

The Body Shop is widely regarded as a pioneer in modern corporate social responsibility. It was one of the first companies to publish a comprehensive report on its CSR initiatives, thanks to founder Anita Roddick’s strong beliefs in environmental protection, animal rights, community trade, and human rights.

The Body Shop Foundation was established by the company to support innovative global projects working in the fields of human and civil rights, environmental protection, and animal welfare. The Body Shop has a sizable customer base due to its anti-animal testing stance.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Case studies

Microsoft has been named the company with the best reputation for CSR in the CSR RepTrakĀ® 100 study, which measures 100 of the most highly regarded companies across 15 countries, for the second year in a row.

Microsoft donated over USD900 million in cash and software to non-profits worldwide in 2012, reduced its carbon emissions per unit of revenue by 30% compared to 2007, and made the company’s largest-ever investment in overall employee compensation.

Closer to home, L’Oreal Thailand partnered with the Ministry of Education’s Office of Vocational Education Commission to launch a professional hairdressing skill-development program for underprivileged Thais.

Companies that practice CSR receive more job applications because people want to work for them. According to a Deloitte survey conducted in 2012, 70 percent of young Millennials, those aged 18 to 26, believe a company’s commitment to the community influences their decision to work there.

CSR also benefits consumers, who are becoming more aware of business philosophy. Customer loyalty grows as a result, as do opportunities for branding and public relations. Companies that support CSR initiatives may be eligible for tax breaks in some countries, including Thailand.

CSR Initiatives

In response to my media friend’s complaint, here are some suggestions for increasing media coverage and publicizing your company’s CSR initiatives.

(1) Do not dismiss CSR as merely another public relations or marketing campaign.

CSR initiatives should be regarded as a long-term investment.

(2) Demonstrate how CSR initiatives are implemented.

Companies that publicize their CSR programs must show how these initiatives are implemented and the impact they have on the company and community rather than simply bragging about it.

(3) Disseminate information about the program’s success and societal impact.

If you have provided training to an organization, share how the training has impacted the people and obtain testimonials from them. Include pertinent facts and figures, such as the amount of carbon footprint that the new sapling will reduce over the next ten years.
Human interest stories that businesses can share as part of a CSR campaign are also popular.

(4) Make it a habit to report on your accomplishments regularly.

Instead of picking an off-the-shelf activity at random in an attempt to make it a front-page story, report on the accomplishments of the CSR programs and highlight some of the ongoing CSR efforts regularly.

(5) Incorporate a “human element.”

Incorporating a “human element” or sharing testimonials can be effective and meaningful to readers. Has it affected anyone or resulted in any significant changes? Making it relevant to a current event may also attract media attention.

Businesses can give back to society in a variety of ways, and it does not have to be a large-scale campaign. Simple acts like organizing a collection drive, donating used office equipment, volunteering with an NGO, or donating your expertise to help communities can all make a significant difference.

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