This post examines how to communicate the business value of CSR to the stakeholders those important external groups that are linked with and can have large impacts on a company. The post goes on to point out various ways effective CSR initiatives can have a positive effect on the business and how it is becoming increasingly important for corporations to embrace sustainability and make it work for them.
by Barb Brown, Principal and Co-owner of BrownFlynn, an award-winning corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm. Follow Barb on Twitter @BrownFlynn; read her blog; connect with Barb on Facebook.
Amid increasing economic, social and environmental demands in today’s business landscape, you may wonder how your company can not only benefit from corporate social responsibility initiatives, but also convey the importance of those efforts to its external audiences. Communicating the business value of CSR to your stakeholders will keep your company competitive and on the forefront of the ever-changing regulatory landscape. As C.B. Bhattacharya, co-author of What Board Members Should Know About Communicating CSR has said, “The business returns to CSR are contingent on the stakeholders’ awareness of what a company actually does in this field.”
See our related post: “Four CSR Trends to Watch in 2011“, to read more on current developments in CSR.
Justifying the need for a new business project, marketing idea or new training program is no different than making the case for sustainability. Selling an idea to your stakeholders requires thoughtful planning and effective communication. Targeting the right audiences with the best supporting stories and rationale will ensure the buy-in and success of your organization’s CSR initiatives.
So who are the appropriate groups to communicate to about the business value of your CSR efforts, and how do you engage them?
For a long time, most companies’ main audience was the shareholder, but recently, this focus has shifted to the stakeholder, which includes large external groups such as company suppliers, investors, advocacy groups, customers, NGOs, and government entities. At its most basic level, the term “stakeholder” refers to any individual or group with an interest or stake in an organization’s operations and impact. By engaging these stakeholders through focus groups, interviews, satisfaction surveys, road shows, open houses or philanthropic activities, companies can clearly determine how they are affected by the decisions of their various stakeholders.
Engaging successfully with stakeholders about CSR requires that an organization listen to its stakeholders’ concerns while recognizing both pressing and future CSR issues facing its industry. The proliferation of regulatory pressures, sustainability rankings, shareholder activists, supply-chain influences, consumer demands, and the rising mainstream awareness of environmental and social issues is probably already affecting the way you do business. These developments are also likely to elevate your stakeholders’ concerns and expectations of greater transparency and increased responsibility.
Once your target audiences are listening, keep in mind both the short- and long-term benefits of your CSR efforts. Communicating the value of your sustainability initiatives emphasizes to your stakeholders why CSR should be an integral part of every business. An organization’s reasons for adopting CSR practices may include the following:
- Accelerating market entry or capturing new market share
- Leveraging the competitive advantages of sustainability, such as increasing employee engagement, building strong relations with the community and capturing new market share
- Attracting new investors
- Enhancing brand reputation
- Driving innovation of new products and services
- Growing top- and bottom-line value
- Ensuring the long-term viability and safety of your business
- Going above and beyond compliance and mitigating risks
- Building goodwill in the community
- Staying competitive and being recognized on top CSR and business lists and exchanges, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Newsweek Green Rankings, Bloomberg, FTSE4Good and CR’s Best Corporate Citizen
- Enhancing customer and employee loyalty. For example, maybe your organization is seeking a license to operate in a local neighborhood. Its residents will likely want to become familiar with your philanthropic initiatives and their benefit to the greater community. Your organization needs to make the case for being a strong community partner. Similarly, customers want to know the benefits of your new environmentally-friendly product or service.
A recent A.T. Kearney study shows that organizations committed to corporate sustainability practices have excelled in the financial markets throughout the recent economic downturn. In 89 percent of industries examined, companies identified as “sustainability-driven” performed better than their industry peers over both three- and six-month periods. Sustainability efforts truly afford your organization sustained results.
Once you have made the case for CSR and your organization realizes the lucrative, triple-bottom-line results, how do you continue to push for a more responsible agenda? Many companies coined as “sustainability-driven” disclose the value of their sustainability initiatives via websites or sustainability reports. According to the Sustainable Investment Research Analyst Network, in 2010, 93 percent of the top 100 U.S. companies released sustainability reports that emphasized environmental, social and governance performance.
Sustainability efforts are increasingly attracting the interest of the Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) community. According to the Social Investment Forum (SIF), professionally managed SRI assets have grown 380 percent since 1995 versus 260 percent for all assets, and have gone from less than 1 percent of total assets in 1995 to 12.2 percent in 2010. CalSTRS, one of the most influential pension funds and a member of the SRI community, stated in 2010 that, “As a long-term investor, CalSTRS wants to invest in well-managed companies that can address the physical risks of climate change and adapt to the changing regulatory and market realities of a carbon-constrained economy.”
Whether your organization is tackling climate change or implementing small, yet calculated responsibility initiatives, communicating a well-thought-out sustainability strategy with clearly linked benefits puts your company ahead of the game and strengthens your business case for adopting CSR. Engaging your external audience will help develop a pool of advocates who support your company’s environmentally and socially responsible practices. Communicating transparently and achieving buy-in from your stakeholders is essential to driving sustainable long-term returns on the road to good corporate citizenship.
Our related post: “Poking Holes in the Corporate Responsibility Curriculum“, examines the state of Corporate Responsibility (CR) curriculum with a constructive criticism viewpoint.
© 2011, Barb Brown. All rights reserved. Do not republish.