By Yolanda Pawar
of One Eleuthera Foundation
IN today’s interconnected world, companies are increasingly expected to be socially responsible and accountable for how their practices impact society and the environment. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to the concept that a business is responsible for more than just creating value and wealth for shareholders but should also seek to benefit the broader community in which it exists.
Far from new, this concept emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and was championed by American economist Howard R Bowen. In his book “Social Responsibilities of the Businessman”, published in 1953, Bowen proposed that businesses should operate in a manner that benefits not only shareholders but also other stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the community.
Over the past three decades, the amount of interest and engagement surrounding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has increased significantly, and for good reason. More business entities at home and abroad understand the powerful dynamic and benefits of “doing good” while “doing good business”. CSR has become not just a respected business practice but a consumer-driven demand that can increase sales and customer loyalty, improve employee retention, and drive positive changes in communities, companies, and countries worldwide.
As consumers become more socially conscious and globally minded, they want to know that the businesses they support are not just in it for the money but are committed to the causes that concern them. Likewise, it’s becoming more apparent that these values matter to employees too. As such, CSR is not only a moral imperative but can be a strategic imperative for businesses seeking to thrive in the modern marketplace and build a legacy business that employees are loyal to and consumers are proud to support with their buying power.
To unlock the power of CSR, businesses must take a strategic approach to their initiatives. This means identifying the most relevant issues to their operations and stakeholders, setting measurable goals, and integrating CSR into their overall business and communications strategy.
CSR involves a wide range of initiatives and practices that businesses can adopt to tackle social and environmental issues and contribute to the greater good of society. The four main categories of CSR are Environmental, Ethical/Human Rights, Economic, and Philanthropic.
Environmental CSR refers to a company’s commitment to sustainability, environmentally sound operations, and stewardship. For instance, climate change, pollution, and resource depletion are significant global challenges we are facing. Businesses can play an essential role in addressing these challenges. Environmental CSR initiatives can be geared toward improving sustainability practices, implementing renewable energy, reducing harmful carbon emissions, and increasing recycling, to name a few. These efforts can all help to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of business and have a long-term, cumulative effect that benefits the planet.
Examples of global companies leading in Corporate Social Responsibility
One company making headway in this CSR arena is Coca-Cola. As a brand, Coca-Cola is prioritising sustainability with a focus on climate, packaging, agriculture, and water security as a part of its “World Without Waste” vision.
In late 2021, the company launched its first 100% plant-based plastic bottle. Dana Breed, Global R&D Director of Packaging and Sustainability, said: “Our goal is to develop sustainable solutions for the entire industry. We want other companies to join us and move forward collectively. We don’t see renewable or recycled content as areas where we want competitive advantage.”
According to a statement on the company’s website, by 2030, Coca-Cola “pledges to collect back the equivalent of every bottle it sells, so none of its packaging ends up as waste and old bottles are recycled into new ones.”
Prioritising recycling and reducing plastic waste is critically important for archipelagic states like ours, where the health of our marine ecosystems is directly linked to our food supply, fishing, and tourism industries. According to a CNN report released in March, “The world’s oceans are polluted by a “plastic smog” made up of an estimated 171 trillion plastic particles that, if gathered, would weigh around 2.3 million tons.” Upgrading recycling to reduce the volume of plastics headed to landfills is a step in the right direction.
Another familiar brand that demonstrates a long-term and deep-seated approach to CSR, particularly in the Ethical/Human Rights category, is Starbucks. This type of CSR hones in on a company’s promise to operate in an ethical manner that upholds human rights principles, fairtrade practices, and equality. As Starbucks puts it, “We believe that conducting business ethically and striving to do the right thing are vital to the success of the company.”
Fairtrade practices contribute to sustainable development and help to reduce poverty by supporting marginalised producers and empowering them to strengthen their operations and improve their livelihoods and the quality of life for their workers. This is especially beneficial in developing countries where commodities and raw materials are sourced, and poverty may be prevalent.
The Fairtrade America site said: “Starbucks has been working with Fairtrade globally since 2000. Starbucks was the first private enterprise to invest in the Fairtrade Access Fund in 2012. Today the fund, supported by Starbucks and others, has loaned over $15m to smallholder farmers, helping them to create the needed infrastructure to protect and improve their crops.”
Economic CSR refers to a company backing its financial decisions in its commitment to do good and not just generate more revenue. It can encompass all the various CSR categories, as demonstrated in the Starbucks example in the preceding paragraph. The bottom line for the company is ensuring that its operations positively impact the environment, people, and society. An example would be when a business chooses to purchase from a supplier that uses sustainable materials, even at a higher cost. Another initiative would be instituting an equitable salary system that fairly compensates all employees and helps to reduce any pre-existing gender or race wage gaps.
It is important to note that although intertwined, CSR and corporate philanthropy are not synonymous. CSR is broader in scope and encompasses many ways that businesses can do social good. Corporate philanthropy is one pathway and refers to providing funding, resources, time, and expertise. Corporate philanthropy can include donations made to nonprofits. Via this means, companies can partner to help nonprofits achieve their missions more effectively and drive positive, sustainable change within local communities. This can be particularly advantageous when the nonprofit is on the ground, connected, and keenly aware of the community’s needs.
A good example of this would be the “Learn and Earn” technical training programme operated by One Eleuthera Foundation’s sister organisation, the Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. This programme offers a bridge to empowerment for young people by providing NAECOB-certified courses in in-demand trades like Basic Culinary, Carpentry, Electrical, Hospitality, and Massage Therapy, etc. The programme is free to students in South Eleuthera, where job opportunities are limited and high school dropout rates continue to increase. The 12-week programme maintains a 95-97% graduation rate and provides each student with a modest weekly stipend. For a company committed to youth and education, sponsoring a student or cohort could be the right CSR fit.
Businesses can also use their CSR portfolio to create a positive social impact and improve the quality of life for their employees and communities. In addition to the four main categories outlined here, there are numerous other areas where companies can focus on being socially responsible for the benefit of their workforce and society. This includes, but is not limited to promoting good governance, supporting diversity and inclusion, creating employee well-being initiatives, supporting employee volunteerism, becoming active in community clubs like Little League and Junior Achievement, and supporting local charities and charitable events. Depending on which activities align with your company’s ethos and mission, you can plan for and customise your Corporate Social Responsibility footprint while making a positive contribution right in your local neighbourhood or hometown.
By embracing Corporate Social Responsibility, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to ethical and sustainable practices, enhance their reputation and sales, and foster stronger relationships with customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
As businesses continue to evolve and respond to changing social and environmental challenges, so will the landscape of CSR as new and innovative approaches emerge to help companies do their part in creating a better and more equitable society and world.
• Yolanda Pawar is the chief communications officer at the One Eleuthera Foundation. Established in 2012, the One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) is a non-profit organisation located in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. For more information, visit www.oneeleuthera.org or email info@oneeleuthera. org. The Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) is the first and only postsecondary, non-profit education and training institution and social enterprise on Eleuthera. CTI operates a student training campus in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, with a 16-room training hotel, restaurant and farm. For more information about CTI’s programmes, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.