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

Green and Generosity – 2 New Envy Trends

There are significant CSR implications in Statusphere, the latest offering from trendwatcher.com – one of the world’s leading consumer trends firms. Based on the premise that “consumers are finding increasingly diverse ways to get their status fix,” it identifies five new areas in which consumers are vying for bragging rights.

One of them is Generosity. Perhaps as a reaction to the impact of greed on the latest economic meltdown, giving now trumps owing as a mark of prestige. Not only are consumers feeling a need to express their more altruistic side, they want to share the experience with others. Giving circles, crowdsourced giving and collaborative giving models abound. Online initiatives that allow individuals to choose the beneficiaries of corporate philanthropy are becoming increasingly common.

As it relates to CSR, many companies are recognizing that corporate philanthropy alone isn’t enough. A more strategic approach dictates a path of stakeholder engagement where customers are an integral part of the giving program – helping to make making decisions and given an opportunity to share experiences. (See Pepsi’s Refresh Project)

Another area identified is “Green Credentials and Unconsumption.” Increasingly consumers are anxious to demonstrate their “eco-credentials” to their peers. The latest ecological symbols and obviously eco-friendly products are taking on the status previously reserved for labels like D&G, Coach and others. And ecologically friendly services (from landscaping to roofing to banking) are taking on the same appeal. Just as in the case of Generosity, consumers are seeking the forums to tell the world they are truly green with envy. The days of the gas guzzling SUV as a badge of accomplishment are gone. Hybrid is the new hot auto label as consumers try to outdo their peers by consuming less.

Most companies have recognized that the green plank is essential to any CSR platform. The truly enlightened players are providing stakeholders with products and services that can express both the company’s and the individual’s eco-interests. Moreover, they are providing ways for stakeholders to share the experience by becoming actively involved and expressing their opinions. (See TD Friends of the Environment)

Passion Points:

  • Meaningfully involve employees and customers in your company’s philanthropic efforts.
  • Make sure your communications plan trumpets their successes and provides the forums for them to share their experiences
  • Ensure that your company’s eco-initiatives are well publicized and well-known by employees.
  • Wherever possible include a respected eco-certification with your green products and services
  • Provide employees and consumers with ways to be active partners in your ecological or sustainability efforts.

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

Cause Splash vs Cause Marketing

The not for profit world has been abuzz in the past few weeks about a cause marketing campaign gone bad. While bloggers and pundits (here’s a good  example) have been quick to lambaste the charity for its lack of judgment, the real issue is that the company opted for cause “splash” and not more strategic cause marketing/CSR decisions.

Here’s the background. Susan G. Komen For The Cure – this is the organization that pioneered the pink ribbon campaign in support of breast cancer research – entered into a cause marketing initiative with KFC. In a program called Buckets for the Cure, KFC is donating 50 cents for every “pink” bucket of chicken sold and is aiming to make the largest-ever single corporation donation (over $8.5 million) to breast cancer research. The problem is that one week after launching the campaign, KFC introduced a new product called the Double Down sandwich  – two pieces of fried chicken, bacon and cheese. The critics jumped on KFC for promoting an extremely unhealthy food product that can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.

It is worth pointing out that despite furor in the blogosphere, to date the campaign has raised over $3.7 million and the website has inspired many people to share their breast cancer stories.

The real problem here is that KFC made a bad decision in its choice of cause marketing campaigns. The criticism of the campaign was foreseeable, particularly because KFC obviously knew when they were launching the Double Down sandwich. What’s even more striking is that the campaign doesn’t align with KFC’s business model. While it provides some temporary splash, in a year it will be forgotten because it really has nothing to do with what KFC does for a living. Contrast this campaign to other initiatives that are part of KFC’s CSR platform. The Colonel’s Scholars program provides scholarships enabling young people to go to college. This makes sense because KFC employs large numbers of high school students and the program aligns with founder Colonel Sanders’ legendary entrepreneurship; it focuses on “dreams and aspirations, and the perseverance to succeed.” KFC’s Animal Welfare Program is also well aligned providing expert oversight of the company’s practices and a supply chain component that includes farm audits.

Other examples of recently announced cause marketing campaigns illustrate the power of aligning with the corporate business model. Huggies (the diaper brand) has launched a program/site called HuggiesMomInspired.com through which it will provide venture capital to entrepreneurial moms.  Read more about it at http://bit.ly/d7QXty.  Barnum’s Animal Crackers recently launched a campaign that will see them raise funds to protect the endangered Asian tiger and raise awareness about endangered species.

Well-aligned cause marketing campaigns are more powerful because they become part of an integrated Corporate Social Responsibility platform. They provide greater opportunities for stakeholder engagement and are more enduring. Ultimately, they enhance the brand while allowing businesses to be good corporate citizens.

Passion Points

  • Cause marketing campaigns should align with your business model and should be just one element in an integrated and strategic CSR approach.
  • The most effective causes will relate to the products that you sell, the service that you provide, your articulated business philosophy or perhaps even personal philanthropic efforts of owners/executives.
  • Ensure that any upcoming marketing efforts won’t diminish the impact of prospective cause marketing campaigns.
  • Choose cause marketing campaigns that provide opportunities for employee engagement.

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?

The Relief Effort Bandwagon

Almost immediately following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, we witnessed a swift, and universal response of support.  Companies from around the world rallied with large donations and public campaigns.  Businesses like FedEx, Walmart, Twitter and Coca Cola quickly stepped up to the plate and publicly proclaimed their commitment to the cause.  And certainly this is all good and noble.  But is it effective Corporate Social Responsibility?  Do global relief efforts present a strategic opportunity for companies to give back and drive their corporate objectives?

Sudden, unexpected global catastrophes certainly present CSR opportunity.  These events tend to attract an enormous amount of media attention, and it is understandable why large corporations might want to benefit from this spotlight.  The human suffering that follows events like earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes stirs up broad public interest and sympathy.

Furthermore, the Haitian earthquake was an event that drew concern from people of all ages, all backgrounds and all religions irrespective of gender, profession or citizenship.  It was a cause that was universally supported, and this cohesion offered the corporate sponsor/donor a rare opportunity. It can prove challenging for companies to align with causes that are going to resonate so broadly with their constituents, and global relief can fill that gap.

But does corporate relief enhance brand?  It might position the company as a ‘caring’ enterprise, one that responds in the most dire and tragic of circumstances.  But corporate sponsors of the Haitian relief effort, and especially those that make a general donation, are not likely to have their brands enhanced as a result of this cause alignment.  As is the case with most CSR efforts, support should be provided strategically and in a way that relates to the company’s corporate values and priorities.

Some companies recognize this need and a good example was Tide’s Loads of Hope initiative, launched after Hurricane Katrina ravaged most of New Orleans.  The Loads of Hope program deploys mobile Laundromat fleets to disaster sites and employees remain on site washing, drying and folding clothing for effected families.  Tide ran an aggressive marketing campaign that placed the photos of families who had been helped on bottles of Tide detergent, and featuring stories and videos on their website.  It’s a memorable effort that enhances the company’s brand and makes a logical, strategic alignment between corporate objectives and community support.

So when you make your decision to provide corporate global relief support, make sure that you do not waste an opportunity to enhance your brand, engage your employees and drive your core business objectives.

Passion Points

  • Act swiftly.  With global relief efforts, the spotlight and attention can wane with each passing day.
  • Think strategically about your support; don’t just write a cheque.  What can your business offer that will help to underscore its brand, its values and will also drive corporate objectives.
  • Make sure that you advertise and market whatever support your company provides.  Your stakeholders and customers should know that you care!

Technology reveals cause marketing truths

CauseWorld is a new iphone app that combines the cutting edge of location-based marketing with the power of cause marketing. Its newest initiative reveals the degree to which consumers want to be engaged and the importance that smart companies are placing on brand reputation.

Using GPS technology, CauseWorld provides you with a list of nearby participating retailers. By visiting the retailer and “checking-in,” users earn “karmas” that they can eventually direct to one of 15 causes. Companies like Citi, Kraft and Proctor & Gamble provide the funds that turn karmas into dollars for the causes. In exchange for their support, the companies are provided with opportunities for advertising and branded statements.

CauseWorld’s newest initiative allows users to earn karmas by scanning the bar code on consumer products like detergent, deodorant and mayonnaise. And that’s the part that is so incredibly revealing.

First, it demonstrates the degree to which consumers want to be engaged. The app requires the user to go out of their way to check in to a retailer or to scan the bar code on a product that they may or may not be buying. And to date over 300,000 people have downloaded the app and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been directed to the charities involved. The fact that users can direct their support to the cause of their choice obviously heightens the appeal but its still fascinating that so many people are prepared to go out of their way to do good.

Secondly, the companies involved clearly see the tremendous brand enhancement that is derived from participating in the program. Think about it. Kraft will donate money because someone picked up a jar of Miracle Whip and scanned its bar code whether or not it results in a purchase. But don’t for a moment underestimate the importance of the advertising and branded message opportunities that are part of the program.

While it would be easy to dismiss this as a world in which only hip iphone users and huge consumer goods companies get to play, any business would be smart to carefully consider what this means to the importance of CSR initiatives.

So, what can you be doing? Here are some Passion Points:

  • Develop ways in which customers or prospective customers can be engaged in CSR efforts. Allow them to choose causes to be supported. Provide opportunities for customers to have specially guided visits of participating organizations. Provide customers with login access to special sections of the causes’ websites.
  • Recognize how vital the brand enhancement derived from cause marketing can be to the competitive position of any business. More and more studies indicate that consumers make buying decisions based on their perception of a brand’s CSR efforts. At the same, ensure that your involvement in any cause marketing initiatives provide abundant opportunities for advertising, pr and media exposure. CSR efforts can be a key driver to improved business results but only if consumers know about them.