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Lead Your Team Strategy

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?
Credit: Kokliang/Shutterstock

To survive in the modern business world, your company needs to take stand – a social stand, that is.

Today's consumers are looking for more than just high-quality products and services when they make a purchase. They're prioritizing corporate social responsibility (CSR), and holding corporations accountable for effecting social change with their business beliefs, practices and profits.

"While the tenants of social responsibility will continue to be grounded in tangible, operational elements – such as ethical workplace practices or energy efficiency – companies are now demanded to share more intangible values – such as what they stand for and what they are willing to stand up for," Stacy Anderson wrote in a blog post on WeFirst.

To illustrate how critical CSR has become, a 2017 study by Cone Communications found that more than 60 percent of Americans hope businesses will drive social and environmental change in the absence of government regulation. The majority of consumers surveyed (87 percent) said they would purchase a product because a company supported an issue they care about. More importantly, a whopping 76 percent will refuse to buy from a company if they learn it supports an issue contrary to their own beliefs.

But consumers aren't the only ones who are drawn to businesses that give back. Susan Cooney, global diversity and inclusion program manager at Symantec, said that a company's CSR strategy is a big factor in where today's top talent chooses to work.

"The next generation of employees is seeking out employers that are focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet and revenue," Cooney told Business News Daily. "Coming out of the recession, corporate revenue has been getting stronger. Companies are encouraged to put that increased profit into programs that give back."

Liz Maw, CEO of nonprofit organization Net Impact, noted that CSR is becoming more mainstream as forward-thinking companied embed sustainability into the core of their business operations to create shared value for business and society.

"Sustainability ... is [now] vital for business success," said Maw, whose company connects students and professionals who want to use their business skills to do social good. "Communities are grappling with problems that are global in scope and structurally multifaceted. The business case for engaging in corporate social responsibility is clear and unmistakable."

Recognizing how important social responsibility is to their customers, many companies now focus on and practice a few broad categories of CSR:

1. Environmental efforts: One primary focus of corporate social responsibility is the environment. Businesses regardless of size have a large carbon footprint. Any steps they can take to reduce those footprints are considered both good for the company and society as a whole.

2. Philanthropy: Businesses can also practice social responsibility by donating money, products or services to social causes. Larger companies tend to have a lot of resources that can benefit charities and local community programs.

3. Ethical labor practices: By treating employees fairly and ethically, companies can also demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. This is especially true of businesses that operate in international locations with labor laws that differ from those in the United States.

4. Volunteering: Attending volunteer events says a lot about a company's sincerity. By doing good deeds without expecting anything in return, companies are able to express their concern for specific issues and support for certain organizations.

Undertaking socially responsible initiatives is truly a win-win situation. Not only will your company appeal to socially conscious consumers and employees, but you'll also make a real difference in the world.

Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of employee engagement platform WeSpire, said companies need to understand what their core social purpose is a how that aligns with their stated mission, to create a cohesive CSR strategy. This, said Stevens, includes "the policies, practices and initiatives a company commits to in order to govern themselves with honesty and transparency, and have a positive impact on social and environmental wellbeing."

Cooney added that in CSR, transparency and honesty about what you're doing are paramount to earning the public's trust, Cooney said.

"If decisions [about social responsibility] are made behind closed doors, people will wonder if there are strings attached, and if the donations are really going where they say," Cooney said. "Engage your employees [and consumers] in giving back. Let them feel like they have a voice."

Stevens reminded business owners that the corporate world has more power than many realize, and using that power to improve the world can bring people of all backgrounds, ages and interests together.

"Given their power and sheer size, corporations can solve big social problems and have a huge impact," she said.

For some great examples of small businesses that put CSR at the heart of their operations, check out this Business News Daily article.

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.