Corporate Social Responsibility has gained widespread acceptance during the last few decades, and in fact, the definition of CSR itself has expanded in many ways. It now includes diversity, equality, and many other attributes reflecting ongoing societal discussions about how we should structure our commitment to the environment and other aspects of our lives.
Businesses all around the world have realised that they have a social responsibility to do more than just generate money. They also should do what is best for their customers, the environment, and society as a whole, and this is now widely accepted as a key corporate practice and primary focus area.
Most companies begin their social responsibility journey with an environmentally friendly initiative, putting sustainable procedures and practices into their operations. Larger organisations’ contributions can have a far-reaching positive impact in increasing awareness about pressing issues such as mental health, malnutrition and workplace diversity, as well as global warming and climate change of course, and there have been some notable examples of leadership on a global scale lasting many years.
Following the bushfire season of late 2019, Australians have generally become even more concerned about climate change. The active involvement of millennials and other generations has generated additional support for CSR measures, and propelled the debate forward. There is now deep concern about climate change, and protecting the environment is a high priority.
The younger generations are more likely to advocate for companies that reflect their opinions and beliefs, and they are willing to pay a premium for it. They walk the talk in their individual capacity to influence change, and are more willing to hold businesses and governments accountable for bringing about reforms that will lead to a more equitable and sustainable future.
According to research by Clutch in the US, 71 per cent of customers think that companies should commit to environmentally friendly business practices, while 68 per cent believe social responsibility and giving back to the community are among the most important traits.
Another study revealed that when consumers think a brand has a strong purpose, they are:
- Four times more likely to purchase from the company.
- Six times more likely to protect the company in the event of a misstep or public criticism.
- Four and a half times more likely to champion the company and recommend it to friends and family.
- Four times more likely to trust the company.
Companies who realise that supporting sustainable practices will be more successful in the long run are more likely to build strong trust, which will result in increased sales and profit, as well as a customer base that will support them precisely because of their environmental credentials.
While consumers and businesses generally agree that additional changes in society at large are essential, there is little actual agreement on how and what should be included that is acceptable to all, exactly how far companies should go in these efforts, and indeed, how much they are recognised for them.
Many Australian businesses have achieved remarkable success over the years by putting in enormous work, like switching to renewable energy and committing to zero emissions, but ironically enough, the question has arisen as to whether they are keeping their customers and stakeholders informed about their progress in these areas.
According to a report from the Responsible Investment Association Australasia, a considerable number of customers in Australia, for example, believe that the banking, technology and automobile industries should be proactive in their sustainable measures, seemingly implying they believe these sectors are not already active here. But surprisingly, many corporations in these industries are leading the way in terms of making positive changes.
While this is an unfortunate and somewhat ironic situation, it does present an opportunity for companies to adopt stronger, more focused communications strategies to clearly establish their sustainability credentials. While we are bombarded with sustainability messaging from companies these days, it seems like for some specific companies and markets, the messages are not getting through to the wider public – or not as much as they should be.
One way of cutting through is for brands to establish affinity by reflecting and expressing the values of their target audience and going where their customers are, even more so than before. Selecting the right communication channel to reach out to them and adopting language that they understand can transform these customers into brand advocates. They can actively contribute to spreading the brand message while influencing their peers. For example, social media is most likely where Gen Z will be found, especially as traditional media audiences fragment. Younger demographics may not even be aware when businesses are showcasing their CSR activities on television or radio, and as a result, will miss out on the ‘news’ and not take those companies’ credentials into consideration when making purchasing decisions.
No matter how much effort an organisation puts in, without a solid communications plan to persuade and motivate people to believe in the corporation’s values, and recognise its activities, consumers will go to someone who can ‘move’ them.
And there’s the big challenge for today’s companies – they are doing a lot of things right to get the CSR messages out there, but somehow many people aren’t in fact listening, or at least taking it all in. New ways will need to be found before companies doing the right thing inadvertently find themselves being accused of not doing enough.