Wednesday, March 09, 2011 | Posted by: Fiona Cullinan
Categories: Media sector | Tags: business, Alex Connock, success, David Cameron, CSR, corporate social responsibility, enterprise, ethics, dbda, social responsibility, moral, Big Society
How’s your corporate social life? Responsible? Non-existent? Alex Connock, chief executive of Ten Alps, looks at corporate social responsibility (CSR) and argues that it is becoming intrinsic to business success.
David Cameron said this last Sunday to the Conservative Party Spring conference in Cardiff:
“We understand that enterprise is not just about markets… it’s also about morals. We understand that enterprise is not just an economic good, it’s a social good, too.”
And a corporate one – if the increasing number of companies embracing and discussing corporate social responsibility are right. But apart from keeping politicians and the odd non-exec director happy, is CSR relevant?
Is CSR relevant?
Yes – in fact, it may be intrinsic to corporate success. Oliver Phillips, who runs the CSR practice at the PR agency Brunswick in New York working for global clients such as PepsiCo and Cisco, says there are three reasons why CSR is vital:
- Global businesses have an increasing understanding that their ‘licence to operate’ is dependent on them meeting demands of stakeholders beyond their shareholder base.
- They are facing a resource risk, like water risk or energy.
- And they are consumer-facing so they must deal with a “moving needle” on consumer expectations.
Innovative, pro-active CSR
A lot of the work done to satisfy this CSR need is innovative and pro-active. Tropicana orange juice (owned by PepsiCo) decided to ask the UK Carbon Trust to do an environmental audit, expecting to find that its global warming impact was in manufacturing or distribution.
It wasn’t. In fact it was in the nitrogen-based fertilisers they were using.
So they innovated, found different materials and cut their carbon footprint. The story was written up in TIME magazine, producing a win environmentally and reputationally – and these days, you can’t do better than that.
CSR in Britain
In Britain, CSR is a growing movement, too. Some corporates have a 1% rule, where they allocate a fixed percentage of annual profits to corporate responsibility in each annual report.
Our group (declaration of interest) has a corporate responsibility consultancy, dbda, run by Dawn Boyfield MBE. A former schoolteacher, she set it up after experiencing the death of a pupil in a road traffic accident – and found like-minded supporters in both public and, surprisingly for the early ’90s, corporate sectors. She says:
“People would rather invest in and work for companies that try to make a difference socially and economically. It actually makes good business sense to build a company’s CSR programme.”
Some CSR examples
On that principle, dbda has built safety and education projects, offline and online, backed by corporates and charities from Nationwide, National Grid and BMW to RoSPA, Syngenta and Marks & Spencer.
These are both inward-facing to their employees and outward-facing to the communities in which they operate – customers, suppliers and partners.
And the interesting thing across the industry: what’s being backed. CSR content goes way beyond publications and websites. It’s games, roadshows, animation and even films – of the documentary kind that are entered into Sundance or the Oscars.
A small part of the Big Society
Sponsorship of content is not clumsy corporate advertising, but sophisticated, editorially standalone and transparently provenanced material that is strong on social media and connectivity.
Enterprise is not just an economic good, it’s a social good, too – said the PM. In any business, this small part of the Big Society could be something too important to ignore.
Image: David Cameron © World Economic Forum; corporate office © Alex Connock
You might also find links these useful:
* All aboard the App Store – Alex Connock on new media business models and funding mechanisms.
* A win for the ethical approach – TelecityGroup was Grant Thornton’s Mid-Cap winner in the 2011 National Business Awards, partly thanks to its ethical, energy-reducing approach.
* Happy International Women’s Day – but where have all the women in business gone? – the number of women directorships globally has fallen to 2004 levels.