To avoid being accused of greenwashing, being too boastful or having overly simplistic goals, many organizations aren't discussing news about their CSR efforts.
By Corey Pembleton and Leslie Bennett
Your organization has invested thousands if not millions of dollars into your CSR strategy. You have solid results and the strategy is working.
Yet, there is something missing: no one knows what’s been accomplished because you haven’t promoted what you are doing. To avoid being accused of greenwashing, being too boastful or having overly simplistic socially responsible goals, many organizations aren’t discussing news about the truly good outcomes their CSR efforts.
Even C-level executives who fully support CSR efforts and are enthusiastic about sustainability goals can be timid when it comes to promoting the good their companies are doing but have no problems talking about profit margins. This includes the creative cause-related marketing (CRM) initiatives companies participate in to promote a particular social or environmental issue that needs addressing.
These complexities were explored during AIESEC's (York University) recent 1MPACT event in Toronto, Canada, featuring a panel discussion on CRM with John Coyne, VP and general counsel at Unilever Canada; Tony Pigott, Co-founder of the Brandaid Project; Frances Edmonds, director of Environment Programs at HP Canada; Gordan Ching, National VP, Marketing and Communications at AIESEC Canada, and host Wesley Gee, director of sustainability at The Works Design Communication.
1. Don't Leave Your Values at the Door
For HP Canada's Frances Edmonds, the most important aspects of CRM are making sure they match with the goals and culture of your organization and that people internally and externally understand the commitment. By publicly announcing the environmental costs of their supply chain footprint in 2013 – estimated at a cost of $50 billion – and their plans for improving, HP was the first in its sector to be transparent about the full extent of its environmental footprint.
In fact, this disclosure strengthened its partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), evident in HP's contributions to WWF’s Living Planet @ Work engagement program, bringing the causes supported by WWF closer to the core of every aspect of business at HP Canada.
2. Gen Y Demands Authenticity and Transparency
AIESEC reminded companies that Generation Y values organizations that use CRM in a way that connects with them emotionally. They value knowing how they are affecting the planet and are demanding the same authenticity and transparency from brands. Companies will increase brand loyalty amongst this demographic by being forthright about their CSR journey – warts and all.
3. Match the Cause to Organizational Values, Not Assumed Customer Values
The approach Unilever takes is somewhat counter-intuitive: they don’t begin by choosing causes based on customer values but rather its own values, thereby, incorporating the commitment into every aspect of its business. This helps them gain confidence in what they are doing, and work with an aggressive and vocal consumer-focused communication strategy about their initiatives.
So when contemplating your next cause marketing campaign, ask yourself: does it match your own values to such an extent that it could be incorporated it into your business model? Are you willing to expand your CSR policy as a means of building on the partnership you are considering?
Most importantly, are you convinced that communicating your efforts publicly is displaying leadership and not something to be shy about?
About the Authors:
Corey Pembleton is focused on bringing equitable change within the private and public sector in developing countries through sustainable urban growth and business practices. He is currently enrolled in the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development [SEED]. You can contact Corey at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @pembletonc.
Leslie Bennett is an executive coach who designs and delivers programs for corporate clients to shift cultures, improve results and change the future. She develops partnerships and collaborates on projects that support CSR goals in Canada and the United States. She is one of the few CultureSync™ Approved Tribal Leaders in Canada. She is a Corporate Culture Game Changer at Open Spaces Learning, a Canadian change management firm helping companies realize business and social impact. Twitter: @openspaceslearn.