Corporate Social Responsibility has been a growing trend over the last few years. Basically, more and more companies are becoming aware of their social and environmental impact of their daily operations, and are taking steps to reduce that. I know in some parts of the world it is necessary for companies to have CSR reports. However, there are still areas where it is optional for companies to have a CSR report. Regardless of the countries policies, any company that has a CSR report has to make it accessible to anyone who wants to see it. Some companies do so very openly, making it easy for consumers to find it on their website. Others, not so much.
When I was in college I majored in Social Entrepreneurship for those who don’t know. Basically what this means is that I spent four years learning about sustainable business practices. Since I attended a liberal arts school, my education was well-rounded in the fact that I took classes in all areas of business, not just one specific section. And we didn’t necessarily learn the tricks to starting our own companies, but rather how to be innovative and adapt to the needs of certain areas in order to create solutions that will actually help them. In the later courses, we touched on CSR and how this new generation of consumers is really reacting to increased transparency with companies, especially true for those who are open about their environmental impact.
Essentially, this new generation of consumers is made up of “green consumers” or “socially conscious consumers” who are aware of the complete lifecycle of the products they purchase and are in turn taking steps towards reducing their impact on the earth. What this means for companies is that any company that is open and transparent with their consumers about their environmental impacts are going to see an increase in sales. That’s just a fact. This new wave of consumers is driving sales for companies that align with their values and have shown that they have taken steps towards bettering the future of this planet. In turn what that means for companies that don’t necessarily do this is that sales will decrease. Maybe not in the immediate moment, but slowly over time the companies will begin to notice declines in in-store traffic and purchases.
I happen to be an intern for a company that takes the latter stance. In our training documents, there is mention that my company takes a “quiet stance” on our CSR report. What that means is that we don’t advertise our involvement with charitable foundations, we don’t flaunt the fact that we started some incredible changes and set precedents for standards within our industry. Rather, we tell clients who ask that yes, we have a CSR report, and that’s it. There’s no explanation about the use of LED lights to reduce energy consumption; no mention of the organic materials used in the uniforms, boxes, bags etc. The sad part is, my company isn’t the only company that takes this stance when it comes to environmental and social initiatives.
When I mentioned my irritation at the quiet stance our company takes, she mentioned that we did it because we didn’t want to seem “boastful.” However, as someone who considers themselves to be apart of the new generation of consumers, I don’t find it boastful at all when companies are open about their initiatives. Rather, it shows that they care and that they are creating a dialogue between themselves and their consumers. It shows that they’re willing to adapt to the needs and desires of their consumer base and that they understand the global climate in which they are selling. There’s nothing boastful about caring, and adapting, and being open with your clients.
Additionally, in my companies training documents for the CSR, there was mention that our quiet stance is so that our company is viewed on the same level as our competitors. In essence, the HBIC’s for my company think that by staying quiet about all the great things our company does to minimize their impact on society, an individual who is considering a product my company sells and a similar product from a competitor will view them on the same level. However, I just don’t believe that is true. I’ve read studies, and I learned in college, that companies who are open and visible with their CSR initiatives have a distinct competitive advantage over the companies who are not doing this.
So while I understand that we don’t want to run the risk of seeming boastful, and want to be judged for the quality of our products rather than our social initiatives, at the end of the day many consumers are going to consider factors beyond the appearance of an item. For example, when I shop for makeup I’m not just looking for the best products. I’m looking for items that are great quality, but that are cruelty-free, and maybe have some other social initiative tied into them. At the end of the day, our society is not ruled by face-value items anymore but are instead looking for the whole package; for items that look great but that have great qualities behind them as well. Something that can make a statement, but that has a message and allows us to feel like we’re knowingly doing good.
I just don’t think I can be quite subjective enough to understand why companies would be so private and secretive about all the projects and steps they’re taking when it comes to things like CSR. Especially when there has been a whole bundle of research dedicated to uncovering discrepancies that exist between transparent vs. non-transparent companies. The studies show that increased transparency only serves to bolster the company, not hinder them, so why not do it? It’s a unique advantage at this stage in business that will push sales that much further against the competition.