Feature Article - September/October 2016

Responsible Business

Consumers, Employees Seek Companies Dedicated to CSR

By Deborah L. Vence

More companies today are taking part in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a way to have a more positive impact on the community.

"Corporate social responsibility refers to initiatives and efforts undertaken by the corporation to either engage in new activities or self-regulate current activities that help the business make a larger impact or contribution to society as a whole," said Melissa Van Dyke, president of The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF).

The IRF's "2016 Trends in Incentive Travel, Rewards and Recognition" report stated that "CSR is a given, not a goal. Employees increasingly expect best-in-class organizations to be good corporate citizens. Incentive and recognition program planners are integrating CSR opportunities in the form of culture-building volunteer days or incentive travel teambuilding events. Millennials are demanding 'social impact travel' where fun and sun meets the ability to have a social impact."

And to prove that more companies are committed to CSR, back in 2010, the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) awarded its first ever Circle of Excellence Social Responsibility Award to Chicago-based Hinda Incentives. The Social Responsibility Award was a new addition to the Circle of Excellence Award Program.

"Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is part of a larger cultural shift in the way we think about corporations and the communities they affect—both inside and outside the organization. Increasingly, we expect businesses to act as good corporate citizens, providing products and services in a positive way, treating employees and customers well, and contributing to the greater good," said Susan Adams, CPIM, CEP, senior director of engagement, Next Level Performance, a Dittman Company, New Brunswick, N.J.

"CSR initiatives have emerged as a way for corporations to include a positive effect on the community as integral to the business plan, and to communicate these efforts as part of their mission to both internal and external stakeholders," Adams said.

Why CSR Is Important

"From a global perspective," according to Van Dyke, "the CSR movement is important because it means executives in businesses are giving deeper consideration to the environment, and people are aware their business has impact outside of just profit."

From a business perspective, having a solid CSR strategy is an important part of modern business since more and more consumers and employees are demanding that the brands and organizations with which they align themselves have a bigger mission than solely profits.

"In essence," Van Dyke added, "employees and consumers want to know not just what you produce, but why you exist."

People want to do business with and work for organizations that share their values.

"When we contribute our time or money to a company, we participate in their success and reinforce their role in our community," Adams said. "By instituting a CSR program, a company expresses its brand values in a public forum. It shares its success in a meaningful way."

The fact is that CSR is what customers want. It builds brand loyalty, enhances reputation, increases sales and profits, attracts investors, attracts and motivates talent, and improves employee retention.

Dena Hirschberg, vice president of sales and marketing at Helping Hand Partners (HHP), a nonprofit corporation in Chicago that helps businesses source socially responsible products for their clients and customers, said CSR is a top driver of consumer behavior.

"Studies show how consumers will spend money [on products] made in a socially responsible way. They will switch brands to support a brand that is charitable and embraces a charitable cause," Hirschberg said, adding that the consumer-driven trend is resonating especially with millennials.

"As you get younger and younger, it's an exponentially greater cause to them. They will actively seek out a socially acceptable component and embrace CSR."

Consumers want products that are made in a socially responsible way; products that directly benefit a charitable organization or cause; and companies that engage in corporate social responsibility, according to HHP.

Smateria is an example of a company that is dedicated to CSR. The company offers a line of fashion and tech accessories and provides free preschool and daycare for the artisans' children. The company makes what's called the Endless Love Bowl, an 11-inch metal bowl made with recycled bicycle tire spokes. The bowl, which can be customized, is handmade by artisans in India.

Many major companies have taken the lead in CSR, including Google, Disney and Coca-Cola.

And, Hirschberg stressed that CSR can create a sea of change. "One person can make a ripple, but if all are doing it," she said, "pretty soon it's a whole wave."

"Part of our job with various partners that we work with is that it's not a one-sided deal," Hirschberg said. "We are vested in mentoring them, helping them about sustainability, production dates, making sure we have inventory. We have gotten to the place where our partners are really good business people now."

And, "As we bring on new partners and products that are popular for incentive programs, [we are] helping our partners become better businesses. It's a joy for us, too," she said.

She also noted that on the partner side, one of the challenges sometimes is getting that organization to become more consistent. "On the customer side, it's a continuous educational process, helping them utilize CSR as a tool for them and as a great sales tool," she added.