Tag Archives: sustainability

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?

The Humility Hurdle

Here’s a situation we’ve encountered a number of times. A business owner is very socially conscious and has actively brought that sensibility into the company. It has resulted in philanthropy or sustainability programs that are well developed and in some cases examples of best practice. Because of the owner’s personal ethos, there are many other aspects of the operation that in fact reflect exemplary CSR principles. These include promoting diversity, the support of charitable causes and ethical business practice.

However, when faced with a proposal to develop a more integrated and strategic CSR plan, the answer is a resounding no. Why? Because it will inevitably result in greater recognition for their socially responsible efforts – and she or he is uncomfortable with undue credit for what is considered to be “just doing the right thing.” In an age of seemingly unbridled corporate egotism, this is almost unbelievable but their enviable humility may be resulting in a disservice to their company and the community.

Perhaps the owner would relent if presented with some of the following benefits that could accrue if a CSR program was well built and strategically articulated.

The company’s employees would be better engaged. They would feel proud of working for a company that stands out, and they might share those feelings with prospective employees. They would be motivated to be a part of CSR efforts. Productivity, retention and the ability to attract top talent would grow.

Other companies will be encouraged to adopt similar practices. This would especially be true of supply chain partners.

There would be greater social outcomes. More organizations would benefit from more support – whether in money or time. In turn, this could result in more people being helped, fed or housed; in more treatment or even cures for those that are sick; or in greater advocacy, awareness and support for causes and communities.

The company could become more profitable. Consumer willingness to support brands that are more socially responsible has been well established. Even in B2B enterprises, buying decisions are increasingly influenced by CSR profiles.

While a CSR program will focus on the company’s efforts, it’s inevitable that some of the spotlight may be cast on the owner. Perhaps the solution lies in convincing him or her that overcoming the humility hurdle may ultimately be for the greater good.

Passion Principles

  1. CSR reporting should focus on the company or employee groups but not individuals.
  2. Consider the collateral benefits of establishing a CSR program
  3. Don’t underestimate the extent to which a well executed CSR program will drive business results.

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

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?