Corporate Social Responsibility – or CSR as it’s more commonly known – is a concept that many businesses ascribe to. After all, which organisation wouldn’t want to be seen to be doing good and giving something back to the community? When performed well, CSR can improve a corporation’s public image, increase its appeal to shareholders and aid the beneficiaries of the project.
CSR may be a simple enough concept to grasp, but it is one that many corporations struggle with. For every success story, there is a scare story; a cautionary tale of Corporate Social Responsibility gone wrong. Let’s begin with the former.
Haagen-Dazs, those renowned manufacturers of luxury ice-cream – the sort that has to be licked longingly off the spoon – know a thing or two about good CSR. In 2009, the firm decided to raise awareness of the dwindling honeybee population, because less bees means less honey. It was a small but noble cause, and one which tied in nicely with the company’s interests and values. As well as donating some of the proceeds from the Hagen-Dazs honeybee range, the firm used the #HelpHoneyBees hashtag to raise $7,000 in two days using Twitcause. While the cost of running such a campaign may have been comparatively low, the goodwill it engendered was substantial – and what’s more it’s also helped conserve those all important honeybees.
Closer to home, British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has been enjoying a CSR success story of its own. Earlier this year, the company reached a notable milestone after laying almost 70,000 solar panels on the roofs of its stores – making Sainsbury’s the largest solar power generator in Europe. This is quite a feat, and one that they can rightly brag about. In becoming the continent’s largest business electricity generator, they’ve reduced their carbon footprint by 6,800 tonnes a year – as well as generating an immeasurable amount of good publicity. This huge project has certainly demonstrated that when it comes to CSR, Sainsbury’s aren’t merely paying lip service.
Of course, that’s not to say that everything always goes better than expected with CSR projects – sometimes it can go an awful lot worse.
Is it feasible – or indeed advisable – for a tobacco firm to engage in CSR? The tobacco industry is a sensitive subject for many; gone are the days when cigarette brands clung proudly to formula one cars and snooker players’ lapels. These days, tobacco firms are expected to be not seen or heard. When British American Tobacco offered the University of Nottingham £3.8m to fund a research centre for business ethics, it seemed like a good deal for both parties. The latter would gain some much-needed investment, while the former could raise its profile by engaging in a spot of CSR. British American Tobacco clearly hadn’t anticipated the backlash that would arise from a tobacco manufacturer being associated with the concept of ‘business ethics’. One university professor resigned in protest at the move and a slew of unfavourable publicity was generated. The firm may have had good intentions, but this one nevertheless has to be marked down as an example of poor CSR in action.
CSR then: easy to grasp, easy to do well and sometimes even easier to mess up. If your business is considering engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility, take the time to identify what you hope to achieve and how you hope to achieve it before blindly diving in. When it comes to CSR, it pays to be cautious.