In this article, Laurèl Bodenhorst Meyer – Head of PR Netherlands – shares key insights on a well-considered CSR policy and what is important to consider when building a CSR communication strategy to date. But first, let’s dive into the definition of CSR.
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THE DEFINITATION OF CSR
By definition, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the practice of sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.
A common CSR term is the Triple Bottom Line, that posits companies to measuring their social and environmental impact, instead of solely focusing on generating profit (the standard ‘bottom line’). In CSR, the Triple Bottom Line is defined under the three P’s: profit, people, and planet.
The content of a CSR policy is a whitepaper – for internal- and external use – that states a company its activities for greater social responsibility towards its stakeholders and society, and how these activities are interwoven into a company’s values, culture, decisions, and strategy.
A CSR report is a deck – for internal- and external use, updated yearly – that companies use to communicate their CSR efforts, including current impact made and the impact to make in the near- and later future.
Both a CSR policy as a CSR report is commonly shared on a dedicated page of a company its website, to enable transparency and easy access to all stakeholders at all times.
What is important to consider when building a CSR communication strategy? Should your company communicate CSR or is it better to stay away from it to prevent being labelled as ‘greenwashing’ and falling straight into a moral trap?
THE LIFELINE AND STATISTICS OF CSR
Corporate Social Responsibility has become a term in the 1950s. The idea of CSR was developed in 1953 by economist Howard Bowen, in his book Social Responsibilities of the Businessman. In this book, Bowen acknowledged that the actions of the businessman affect the lives of us all. He stated that the decisions of the businessman have their consequences way beyond himself, his stockholders, and his customers (Bowen, 1953). Even though CSR has been around for decades, the term only skyrocketed in recent years.
Statistics (S&P 500 Index, Harvard 2019) highlight that an estimated of 90% of companies published a CSR report in 2019, compared to only 20% in 2011. In 2019, 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place, while 73% of investors state that efforts to improve the environment and society contribute to their investment decisions.
This rapidly increase of attention to CSR, is a response to the current society we live in: the fast pace and ease of which information circulates worldwide via (social) media, results in organizations being continuously exposed of their actions, positive or not.
One important stakeholder group that has been the number one frontrunner for driving change are NGO’s. In the last decade, NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisations) have been working on building their voice, peddling factual information into society, which to a certain extent ‘uncensored’. NGO’s often need a long breath to reach ‘the big crowd’, though when this crowd is reached, change as support are around the corner.
Another very important stakeholder group that is able to drive change on a bigger scale, are consumers. Accelerated by the pandemic, consumers have become more conscious of issues such as climate change, income inequality, health care disparities, unfair labor practices, and gender inequity and are more driven to engage with and work for purpose-driven companies that are taking action to overcome economic, social and environmental challenges.
The last stakeholder group that is acting as drivers of change and we dive into are investors: by using their commercial antennae they been able to introduce performance-based CSR, being the first to promote the correlation between social and financial performance. Spurred by business, the amount of Green Impact funds – also termed as Social Responsible Investment funds – have been increasing immensely since only recent years. CSR has evolved into a core business function, central to corporate strategy.
As often the case, pressure from stakeholders (e.g., NGO’s, consumers, employees, retail partners, investors) fuels incentives for companies to embrace- and communicate CSR. By the same token, as nowadays companies are incentivized to talk CSR, how do you ensure your CSR efforts are not perceived as a marketing ploy?
5 TIPS FROM THE VEIL, FOR YOUR CSR POLICY AND COMMUNICATION STRATEGY
START FROM THE INSIDE OUT
CSR will have to come- or be built from the internal heart. Define what CSR signifies in your company and its relation to the overarching mission and purpose. Identify which CSR issues are important in your sector and evaluate where you stand with your company.
CSR should never be a brand game: if an organisation is sincere, it is a breeze to fabricate a message that effectively transmits your CSR efforts. Due to the serious amount of greenwashing today, consumers can tell the difference between pretenders and companies that are truly committed to a mission.
When undertaking social responsibility initiatives, it is essential to act. Communication must highlight actual action that illustrates the company its values, not through solely statements.
ENGAGE WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES FIRST
Engaged employees serve as advocates and ambassadors: they are the ones that are able to share your company’s CSR efforts organically, with self-experienced examples that go beyond letters on paper. Per example, if your company acts for better working conditions in its factories, instead of sharing your initiative as a brand, have the factory employees show to the public how their working conditions have been improved.
COMMUNICATE FACTS AND WITH DELAY
Communicating your CSR efforts requires a delayed and factual approach. Don’t scream and avoid marketing jargon, this can only lead to skepticism. Remember to communicate solely about factual developments of your CSR and about the steps that are planned for the future.
SUPPORT YOUR EFFORTS WITH RESULTS
You need to be able to support your CSR efforts with outcomes: show how your efforts have paid off within your community and sector. Make sure you avoid portraying your company as a hero: remain modest and emphasize CSR remains a process of endless improvement.
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