The way we do business is changing. The rise of social media and the internet has seen consumer demand for ethical business practices grow and grow. People are better informed than ever, and damaging stories can travel the breadth of the globe in an instant. In this environment, it’s no wonder many brands are embracing the concept of social responsibility.
Or to look at it from a less cynical angle perhaps, businesses also have a unique chance to effect meaningful and lasting positive change. And many take that opportunity seriously, making genuine efforts to improve the world as a part of their business model. The fact that social responsibility also comes with plenty of business benefits is, of course, an added bonus.
Whether it’s motivated by a sense of moral obligation or the desire to improve profits, knowing your way around social responsibility practises is a must in today’s business climate.
Social responsibility policies
Socially responsible business models will take a range of factors into account as part of their corporate self-regulation (CSR) policy. A brand’s values should aim to protect everything from the environment and global workers’ rights to local community projects. Some key policy areas to consider include:
Reducing your carbon footprint
Environmentally-conscious business operations are all-important in the face of climate change. Many businesses, including top Fortune 500 brands like Siemens, are committing to becoming carbon neutral. To reduce or eliminate your carbon footprint, you need to first identify your carbon emissions. You can then look at ways to reduce emissions – by reducing travel miles and packaging or investing in energy-efficient technology for example – and offset those that cannot be eliminated by investing in green projects.
Forming pre-competitive partnerships
Many brands are choosing to put traditional business competitiveness aside to form collaborative relationships with another brand. By pooling resources and skills, successful pre-competitive partnerships can work towards the common good together – whether that’s by raising funds or developing products.
Luxury online fashion retailer Yoox formed a pre-competitive partnership with Australian brand We Are Handsome in order to launch their Yoox Loves the Reef project. The proceeds of this collaboration benefit the conservation work of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
Committing to ethical labour practises
With so many distressing reports of workers’ rights violations coming in from around the world, consumers increasingly look to buy from brands with a strong commitment to ethical labour. And that extends to all parts of your supply chain, as well as looking after your own employees.
Ice cream brand, Ben and Jerry’s, are a great example of a business with a socially responsible approach to labour. Not only do they purely source fair-trade ingredients, their Caring Dairy™ programme helps dairy farms in their home state of Vermont become more sustainable.
Taking part in voluntary work and philanthropy
Socially responsible companies devote time and money to supporting charitable work. That could be done by organising volunteering opportunities or by setting aside a budget to donate to causes close to your brand’s heart.
Take the time to think which issues mean the most to you. Is it your local community? Environmental causes? Women’s rights? Cola-Cola’s ‘5by20’ initiative, for example, was created with the aim of empowering five million female entrepreneurs worldwide by the year 2020.
Benefits for businesses
Now you have some ideas of socially responsible policies, what kind of benefits can you expect to see by putting them into practice?
Studies consistently show that socially responsible businesses are both sustainable and reaping plentiful benefits.
The business benefits of social responsibility include:
- Great PR and marketing opportunities
- Improved brand recognition and credibility
- Higher employee satisfaction
- Improved staff recruitment and retention
- Increased sales
- More loyal customers
- Higher chances of securing investment
- Reduced costs and waste
- Easier regulatory relationships with local authorities
By building a reputation as a socially responsible business, you have a genuine opportunity to leave a positive mark on the world, as well as giving your brand the edge.