Beyond the feel-good element of philanthropic giving or “going green,” there is money tied to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
What is Corporate Social Responsibility?
Corporate Social Responsibility is a form of self-regulation private businesses engage in to align their business with social and environmental standards. Historically, the practice could be seen as a policy or business strategy, large organizations have pushed CSR to levels of international, company-wide initiatives.
In a 2015 report, Nielsen found that 3 out of 4 millennials and 51% of baby boomers are willing to pay more for a sustainable brand. It’s no wonder many companies have branded themselves as “environmentally friendly”.
Similarly, Brookings Institute’s research shows that nine out of ten millennials would switch products to purchase a more responsible option, with almost 90% buying a product purely on the basis of its social or environmental benefit.
Unilever reports that it’s most sustainable brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and Dove, have outperformed average Unilever growth. In 2017, Unilever brands with positive social and environmental impacts grew 46% faster than the rest of the business and delivered 70% of Unilever’s turnover growth.
More businesses are discovering that there’s money to be made in doing good and solving society’s problems.
People Seek Purpose
Research shows that purpose-driven businesses better attract and retain employees. That’s because employees, especially Millennials, seek employment that reflects their own values. In fact, in a 2015 study by Cone Communications, it was reported that 62% of Millennials overall would rather take a pay cut to work for a responsible company than work for a non-purpose-driven business.
A CSR program can not only help attract talent, but it’s also a great way to keep employees engaged. We won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of the ROI of employee retention, but let’s just say it costs about 20% of a single employees annual salary to replace them and highly engaged teams are 21% more productive.
It’s unlikely that this trend will decrease. In fact, the Brookings Institute reports that an estimated 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials in 2025.
Cheated emissions tests but really love the word “clean”? Have a sparkly “sustainable” product with a murky supply chain? Misplaced your coal ash but swear to be “green”?
The key to any CSR initiative is to keep things authentic to your company with claims based on reality.
If you’re building a brand based on deception, or even partial truths, there’s a good chance of being caught. Consumers are smart and often skeptical, and for good reason. No one enjoys being misled.
A study by Ipsos Connect and Trinity Mirror found that 42% of consumers claim to distrust brands and that 69% distrust advertising. That same study determined that (61%) consumers claim they are more loyal to the brands they trust.
When simply incorporating earth tones and a mission statement about being “environmentally friendly,” is seen insincere, it’s crucial to have verifiable facts, ideally supported by an unbiased third-party, like B Lab for B Corps.
B Corp? Don’t I Want to be an A+ Corp?
Put aside your grade school anxiety about making anything less than straight A’s. We’re talkin’ business. A “B Corp” is a for-profit company that is certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet meticulous standards of environmental and social performance, transparency, and accountability.
It’s the best way to prove that your business adds value and purpose to the world. Sorry, your mom’s seal of approval doesn’t count as verification.
All B Corps must pass an Impact Assessment that analyzes all aspects of the business. It’s similar to USDA Organic or LEED certification, but instead of a single product, the certification covers the business as a whole including its impact on the environment, customers, workers, community, and governance.
The certification is only awarded to high achievers, kind of like the honor roll. Companies must achieve at least 80 out of 200 points on the Impact Assessment. Unlike school, though, there are only positive points to show that a company goes beyond the norms of a typical for-profit company. The Impact Assessment does not penalize companies with negative points.
Check out how Lulu scores on the Impact Assessment.
We’re not the only business to take a stand. Please see our friends at Patagonia, Athleta, and Ben & Jerry’s.
In an interview with B The Change Media, Athleta’s CFO, Chris Samway said,
“From a purely financial perspective, the return on investment (ROI) associated with aligning interests of business with those of society is compelling[.] We know the next generation of consumers increasingly cares about brands that stand for something. We hear from our customers that putting people and planet right up there with profit is something that resonates with her.”
Embrace the copycats
Your industry frenemies may take notice when they see the praise and engagement generated by your CSR program.
In fact, they might try to copy you.
If their imitation is sincere, then congratulations! You can celebrate the success of creating systemic change. When entire industries come together it can be truly transformative. Just look at the Forest Stewardship Council. The organization was started by environmentalists and businesses involved in forestry-related products/services, like paper producers.
Instead of working against each other, the group worked collectively to promote best practices in forest management. Now, it’s become the gold standard for paper. In fact, all Lulu print partners use FSC-certified paper.
“You have permission to NOT change the world tomorrow.”
Embrace this gentle reminder from Nell Debevoise, Founder & CEO of fellow B Corp, Inspiring Capital. It’s okay to do small, good things. Gradual change is still change.
Whether it’s creating print-on-demand books, volunteering in the community, or composting our office coffee grounds, at Lulu, we strive to make every day a little better than yesterday.
Here are a few of our favorite Lulu books to help you get started on the positive environmental and social impact journey.
The Intrapreneur’s Toolkit by The League of Intrepreneurs
Do you work for big business? Are you responsible for launching a new initiative, product or service that is a force for good in the world? Would your colleagues describe you as a bit of a maverick, maven or misfit? You may be a social intrapreneur! Social intrapreneurs are becoming key actors in the race towards a new kind of economy. These corporate changemakers are developing scalable solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems ranging from health to education to the environment. But contrary to social entrepreneurs, they are innovating from within some of the world’s largest companies. Delivering game-changing innovation inside a company is never easy, but it’s even more challenging when the problems you’re tackling – such as climate change or poverty – are not always well understood or overtly connected to the business strategy. That’s why we created this toolkit – to help support and strengthen this growing movement of corporate change agents transforming a business from the inside out.
Mind What Matters by Ariana Velazquez
Mind What Matters focuses on simple lifestyle habits you can adopt that reduce waste contribution while hardly altering your current lifestyle. You will find a multitude of new ways to seamlessly adapt an eco-friendly lifestyle that not only benefits the planet but yourself as well.
Social Entrepreneur by Kusha Karvandi & Kris Zelinka
In turbulent times, our Millennials, Generation-Y, and many others have joined the entrepreneurial renaissance in search of happiness and the coveted “American Dream.” What they’ve discovered is that building wealth & making a positive social impact aren’t mutually exclusive. Ergo, the demonstrable trend of social entrepreneurship is becoming a major disruptor of most philanthropic industries. Instead of arbitrary donations to piss-poor managed charities, social entrepreneurs are making financial and sweat-equitable investments into socially responsible business — those that make money, and a difference. If you’re like most people, stuck in a boring “job” not doing anything meaning or significant in this world, take our advice: read this book today, quit tomorrow, and capitalize through altruism.
Sheridan is Lulu’s Coordinator of Sustainability and Outreach. She is an author advocate, B Corp Champion, friend to all cats everywhere, and a clog aficionado.