Green Scene: Make your CSR policy believable by making it transparent

Ask yourself, how good are your company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials? Not even sure what CSR means? According to Wikipedia, “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen...
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Ask yourself, how good are your company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials? Not even sure what CSR means?

According to Wikipedia, “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen to extend beyond the statutory obligation to comply with legislation and sees organizations voluntarily taking further steps to improve the quality of life for employees and their families as well as for the local community and society at large.”

Certainly, as a result of the Enron scandal, but also because of many more subtle and less than subtle corporate blunders in recent years, shareholder sensitivity to corporate promises is at an all time high, while tolerance for corporate deception, thinly veiled misdirection and corruption is at an all-time low.

Some of the issues that created the problems in the past, and continue to drive problems for corporations currently, are that a company’s share price is frequently viewed as a key indicator of corporate and management success. And, as a result, the requisite need to keep shareholders happy remains central to a CEO’s ability to keep his or her job. And that, but the virtue of human nature, can drive company executives to create a superficial or less-than-effective CSR policy.

If a company truly wants to reestablish stakeholder trust, the reasons for the establishment of a well-grounded and effective CSR policy must be genuine.

Interestingly, corporations are investing more in CSR policies to regain stakeholder trust. But the skepticism remains, and it has fueled an aggressive watchdog environment, for good reason.

To bypass stakeholder skepticism, and have a believable CSR policy, you need to ensure your company has a CSR platform that stands up to scrutiny -- both internal and external. Here are five ways to do just that:

  1. Consider why your organization should implement a CSR policy; is it for offensive or defensive reasons? It’s advisable to develop it on the offensive, and to bring the policy into your organization’s culture. Employee buy-in and support are critical to having a believable CSR policy.
  2. Who will spearhead and oversee the policy? The fastest way to believability is to assign your CEO as the guardian of the CSR policy. Support this with the hire or promotion of an internal CSR officer for on-the-ground management of the policy. The officer will spearhead the initiative, monitor its relevancy to the organization’s mission and vision, and report to the executive overseeing the CSR policy.
  3. Turn your CSR promises into action. Create incentives for employees for successfully following CSR policy. In most firms, rewards are based on performance results, not CSR compliance, according to Charles Williams, author of "Effective Management, 2007." Evolve that reality by creating CSR-policy-related rewards to give to employees.
  4. Expand your firm’s annual report to include a triple-bottom-line perspective. People, profits and planet are your new bottom-line mantra. Need an example? Check out most of the major corporations operating today (e.g., Nike, Starbucks, Timberland, VFC Corp.). Bolster this with transparent communications that cheerlead the policy to employees and present it honestly to stakeholders.
  5. Create anonymous reporting structure for employees. A CSR ombudsman, an external audit, or an outlet for anonymous feedback on CSR policy is a strong way to build believability and relevancy of your policy to employees and external stakeholders.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden of Verde PR has put her journalist hat back on with a regular Green Scene column for SNEWS®. After spending nine years as a journalist covering the outdoor industry, she founded Verde PR (formerly KCPR). Verde is a boutique public relations, branding and consulting agency located in Durango, Colo. For more information on Verde PR, email Carpenter-Ogden at kco@verdepr.com, or visit www.verdepr.com.

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