Author Archives: Ruth Zive

The Overconfidence Obstacle

A few months ago, we wrote about “The Humility Hurdle”, which addressed the reluctance of some CEO’s and companies to herald their CSR and philanthropic practices publicly, as a result of corporate ‘modesty’.  On the other end of the spectrum, we find a certain sense of bravado amongst CEO’s who cannot wait to toot their own horns and aggressively advance their company’s community interests, often without any thoughtful or strategic consideration of the full impact of their pursuits.

Case in point, Marc Zuckerberg, Facebook’s wonderboy, who announced last month that he was donating $100 million to the Newark public school system.  But the announcement was not made casually; it was done on the Oprah Winfrey show, with much hype and just days before the controversial Facebook expose “The Social Network” was released.  The merits or motives of this strategy notwithstanding, its hard to dispute that bringing the announcement to the Oprah show is about as bold a move as you can get.  It takes nerve, and Zuckerberg had to be feeling very confident about his plan.

And just weeks later, the plan seems to have hit a roadblock and skeptics argue about whether or not it is even legally viable.  Granted, the donation came from Zuckerberg, not from Facebook per se.  But this raises an even more pointed question – to what extent must CEO’s reflect their company’s CSR interests when it comes to their personal giving?  If they are not strategic and thoughtful in their own philanthropic efforts, are they undermining their company’s CSR progress?  Facebook has launched its own ‘causes’ platform that encourages users to “make a difference…on Facebook”.  Does this align strategically with Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift?  Should it?

Just as a CEO (and particularly one with public profile) has to consider the impact of his behavior outside of the office, so too must he think before he writes a cheque to the local charity.  Charity should not be flaunted flagrantly – and while Zuckerberg’s generosity may serve as an example to other Executives thinking of doing good, the apparent lack of strategy behind the donation may just come back to bite him….and by extension, Facebook.

And the flip side of the same equation is the notion that if CEO’s are philanthropically inclined, they are missing an important CSR opportunity if they do not integrate their personal giving experiences with their corporate interests.  Philanthropy can help to enhance corporate brand and community investment can generate opportunities for employee engagement.  These resources need to be considered and leveraged.  Perhaps Marc Zuckerberg should have thought through his $100 million donation more strategically before he jumped in full steam ahead.

Passion Points:

  • Consider that executives may be held to the same standard’s that their company’s CSR platform espouses
  • Try to integrate the personal giving of your employees and top executives with the community priorities being heralded by your company
  • Have a plan for your personal giving – think it through from start to finish before any donations are publicly announced.  Make sure that you can deliver on your promises
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To compost or not to compost

So, I was going to write an article about Frito-Lay/SunChips’ new biodegradable bag (which I purchased for the first time last week), and to initiate a discussion about whether or not, from a cause marketing point of view, the company has done a strategic job of leveraging their CSR efforts to their best business advantage.  But when I sat down to read up about SunChips’ marketing process, I learned that the biodegradable bag had been yanked due to noise levels!

Indeed, I noticed right away that the bag was noisy.  Like a freight train actually.  But as an environmentally concerned consumer, I felt good knowing that I could put the bag in my green bin. In fact – I wasn’t much of a SunChips enthusiast before the bag hit the shelves.  I bought the chips because of the bag.  And I suppose that was part of the company’s motivation for introducing a compost-able bag in the first place.  Again, as an environmentally concerned consumer, I was shocked that feedback over the bag’s noise level would have been enough to prompt an overhaul of SunChips’ heavily hyped and costly compost-able bag rollout. 

So what exactly is going on here?  Why all of the corporate flip-flopping around a fairly compelling and cutting-edge green packaging initiative?  My best guess is that Frito-Lay determined (after an assessment of focus groups and initial reactions) that the bottom line business gain resulting from their CSR efforts (after all, lots of folks like me would have probably continued buying the chips in spite of the noise) was going to be eclipsed by the broader public’s reaction to the bag’s noise level.  In other words, good business sense trumped the company’s interest in doing good

Frito-Lay is going to reintroduce a quieter version of their biodegradable bag soon enough, so they haven’t abandoned ship altogether.  But there is a fundamental lesson to be learned – that is, CSR efforts must be strategic.  They have to integrate with the bigger business picture.  They have to consider the needs and interests of target markets and corporate stakeholders.  In other words, while they have to be authentic, they ultimately have to help drive business (and certainly not undermine it). 

Sounds like basic stuff.  Also sounds like Frito-Lay learned the hard way.

Passion Points:

  • When considering a CSR or sustainability strategy, don’t lose sight of the business bigger picture
  • Consider the demographic of your key stakeholder groups – what are their priorities and interests, how will they react to your CSR platform?

Authenticity and Transparency in Celebrity Cause Alignment

Celebrities are amongst the savviest social responsibility activists.  And if celebrity is seen as a corporate enterprise, the rationale for cause alignment and CSR in Hollywood makes a lot of sense.  It can enhance reputation, drive sales, establish stakeholder loyalty and offer the opportunity to give back and make a difference in the world.  And scores of celebrities are seizing the opportunity to do just that; in fact, for some, like Bono, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Audrey Hepburn, their community work has become a critical part of their public persona.

But just as is the case in the corporate world, celebrities have to be careful about the authenticity of their philanthropic and community work.  We have written a great deal about the importance of transparency and genuineness when companies begin to develop strategic corporate social responsibility platforms, and when this piece is missing in the celebrity world, the results can be catastrophic.

Take, for instance, Lindsay Lohan.  In the past, Lohan has partnered with Angelwear in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and she has been involved with Save the Children.    Today, Lohan just completed a jail sentence after she violated the terms of her probation in a 2007 drug case.  Clearly, she herself is troubled, and while her instincts about the charities that she supported may have been genuine, from a corporate PR point of view, the cause associations probably no longer pack the same punch.

On the heels of Al Gore’s green expose, An Inconvenient Truth, the former Vice President was heralded as a hypocrite, given his own unimpressive carbon footprint.  He responded with a redoubling of his commitment to carbon neutrality (along with several ‘explanations’ for his ridiculous rate of energy consumption and use of private jets).  Today this sense of disingenuousness still plagues Gore’s reputation.

Australian singer and actress Sophie Monk has been an outspoken PETA activist and has posed naked for the organization on a poster that urges people to “Spice up your life….go vegetarian”.  Several months later, Monk was photographed with a very non-vegetarian box of KFC in hand (picture below).  It is a bit of a leap to accept that her cause alignment was truly from the heart.

Sophie Monk Enjoying KFC

Which brings this discussion full circle, since it was only a few months ago that KFC’s partnership with Susan B. Komen was characterized as insincere.  Celebrities and companies should look to one another for best practice examples of authentic, sincere and genuine cause partnerships.

The CSR Moral of the Story is ……

Aesop’s 650 fables remain a popular choice for lessons in moral education.  In fact, last week I shared The Ant & the Grasshopper with my five year old son, in an effort to teach him the value of hard work and perseverance and it got me thinking – does the world of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), so steeped in matters of moral and ethical significance, have anything to learn from Aesop?

I think it does.

Take, for instance, The Boy who Cried Wolf.  We all know the story – the attention-seeking lad who contrives a scenario of danger to elicit concern.  After many bogus cries for help, the boy finds that he is indeed in jeopardy, and when he cries, nobody comes.  This story is all about authenticity and trustworthiness, the cornerstone of any effective CSR strategy.  If a company is heralding CSR or sustainability as a priority, but its claims ring hollow, nobody will pay attention if and when there is a genuine shift in business practices.  KFC may encounter this very problem should it decide to adopt a new CSR or cause alignment platform in the future.

Aesop’s story about the North Wind and the Sun also offers an important CSR message.  In a competition to determine who is stronger, each element must cause a passer-by to remove his coat, and whoever does it first wins.  The North Wind blows and blows and with each gust, the passing man pulls his coat tighter to protect himself.  The sun, however, just shines brightly until finally, the man removes his coat from the heat.  The lesson, of course, is that persuasion is better than force, a lesson that Timberland might well be learning in the wake of their recent smoking ban (http://blogs.forbes.com/csr/2010/06/03/timberlands-smoking-ban-good-corporate-citizenship-or-overkill/).  CSR overkill can be counterproductive.

Perhaps the Aesop fable with the most important message for anyone interested in CSR is that of The Lion and the Mouse. In a gesture of goodwill, the Lion takes pity on the lowly mouse, granting him life and freedom.  The grateful mouse promises to repay this benevolent gesture, but the lion is altogether cynical of the tiny mouse’s capacity to help him.  Sure enough, the scales tip and the mouse saves the day by freeing the lion from captors.  The lesson, you ask?  While business may have more muscle than community causes – while the corporate world wields more power – there is much to be gained from a relationship with those in need.

Aesop may well have been the world’s first CSR consultant!

Passion Points:

  • Don’t cry wolf.  Make sure your CSR practices are genuine and legitimate.
  • No need to force people into compliance.  A softer approach, laid out strategically over time may have bigger impact.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of CSR.  Even the strongest, wealthiest companies have much to gain through strategic partnerships with those in need.

CSR Harmony

Loblaw Companies Limited recently released its third annual Corporate Social Responsibility report titled “The Way We Do Business”, and true to form, the company continues to blaze trails in this arena. According to Galen Weston, Executive Chairman, Loblaw’s goal is to, “to meet the needs of today while preparing to address the social impacts facing Canada in the future.”

Loblaw’s CSR platform defines the nature of business which fuels a symbiosis that is exemplary.  “Doing Good” and “Doing Business” are enmeshed priorities that function as complements to one another.

Five pillars establish a corporate culture against which all business operations are measured: Respect the Environment; Source with Integrity; Make a Positive Difference in Our Community; Reflect Our Nation’s Diversity; and Be a Great Place to Work.

Clark Turner writes about the dangers of Greenwashing and counsels businesses on how to develop sustainability practices that are authentic and genuine.  And in fact all CSR initiatives (employee engagement programs, environmental projects, cause branding campaigns) should be rooted in genuine core corporate values.

If a company starts with a strong sense of its corporate identity – what it stands for, what its stakeholders care about, it’s vision for the future of the community it serves – than it is more likely that an authentic CSR effort will follow.  Too often, companies explore CSR and Sustainability practices as a knee-jerk reaction to stakeholder pressure, churning out programs that are ad hoc, and in no way a meaningful reflection of true corporate values.  We are seeing the implications of that process with BP and the oil spill.

Loblaw figured this out early on their process and they continue to reap the benefits on all fronts.

Passion Points

  • Let your corporate identity lead the way
  • Be true to your values
  • Practice what you preach
  • Make sure that your CSR practices reciprocally support your business model

Baggin’ CSR

I am a shameless handbag addict. It’s a silly vice, really. But handbags make me happy. And considering their functionality, I think that my addiction is perfectly acceptable.

In addition to all of the CSR and sustainability blogs that I read every day, I also allow myself 20 minutes each morning to indulge in The Purse Blog. And the recent post about Botkier’s generous move to donate 50% of revenues from the sale of their Joy Satchel to charity got me thinking. Can the world of CSR learn something from handbag manufacturers?

Botkier’s move notwithstanding, handbag designers have made some bold CSR decisions as of late. Louis Vuitton, arguably the world’s most iconic handbag designer, announced a few weeks ago that it had signed a five year agreement with SOS Children’s Villages to create a program called “Partnership for Children’s Futures”.  The partnership will help children who are orphaned, abandoned or whose families are unable to care for them.

Though it’s a generous move, I can’t help but find the alignment a bit strange – coming from a luxury mega-brand that charges upwards of $2,000 for some of their more basic designs. (think orphaned children in remote villages juxtaposed against the LV patchwork tribute bag – that retailed for $45,000). Perhaps LV identified mothers as a priority market, and mothers naturally care about children. In that sense, it’s a smart partnership.

Beyonce with a $45,000 LV Tribute Patchwork Tote

Beyonce with a $45,000 LV Tribute Patchwork Tote

Handbag designer Mat & Nat offers a collection of design-centric, eco-friendly, vegan handbags and their entire business model is built on a very solid and creative foundation of social responsibility. The linings of their current designs are all made from recycled water bottles, for instance.

So I think that my handbag indulgence has taught me valuable lessons that can be transferred to the professional world of CSR.

Passion Points:

• Giving back is a universal notion that has become a baseline standard even in luxury markets

• Think about causes that will resonate with your customers and target markets

• In a best case scenario, establish a business model that aligns seamlessly with a CSR mandate

An Apple A Day

I’ve always been a fairly devoted PC user, but two weeks ago, after soliciting feedback from all of my Apple-savvy friends, I bought my first Mac. And I have to admit, my new Macbook Pro laptop is impressive.  The applications are user-friendly, everything is sleek, and the system operates at lightning fast speed.  It weighs next to nothing; it is virus-resistant and even my children think it is ‘beyond cool’.

But perhaps most intriguing to me is the very strong way in which the Macbook integrates with Apple’s CSR platform.  And as a consumer, I have been engaged by Apple as a partner on that journey – and I feel pretty good about that!  My new Macbook is highly recyclable, it boasts a longer-lasting battery, it is more energy efficient and even earned a ‘Gold’ label from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).  By ensuring that their product meets these high environmental standards, Apple has empowered me to reduce my own carbon footprint.

Five years ago, were computer owners even considering the environmental impact of their computer use?  Certainly car owners were becoming informed along these lines, but computers seem on the periphery of this movement, to some degree.  Apple’s very aggressive campaign signifies to me that the importance of a strong CSR platform has become a standard, no matter the industry.  Everything from coffee to make-up, cell phones to pet food are all being marketed with CSR goals and drivers in mind.

Apple serves as a best practices model since they have not only developed environmentally friendly business standards to herald as a selling feature, but the very product that they are selling empowers the consumer to make environmentally responsible choices – watch this commercial

This is the best possible integration of CSR values with a company’s business model.

So what can other business owners learn from Apple’s example?

Passion Points:

  • No matter the industry in which you operate or the size of your business, you should be thinking about your Corporate Social Responsibility platform.
  • Consider whether or not you are manufacturing your product in a manner that considers environmental impact.  For instance, can you reduce packaging and use ‘green’ packaging materials?  Is your product recyclable?  Can you eliminate or reduce the use of harmful toxins?
  • Make sure to share your company’s ‘green’ choices with its stakeholder groups as a selling feature.  Consumers care about your environmental practices and they should be made aware of your company’s policies and practices.
  • If your product or service cannot be ‘greened’, consider what your company can do operationally to reduce its carbon footprint.  Can you reduce paper use?  Can you encourage ‘remote’ meetings to cut down on business travel?   Do you have policies to ensure that computers are turned off?  Do you use energy efficient lighting and power sources?