David Saul, managing director of leading serviced office operator Business Environment explores the importance of CSR.
Judging by the various newspaper reports I’ve seen recently, business ethics and the importance of corporate social responsibility is currently a hot topic. While it’s a good thing that this issue is on the agenda, the picture painted by various studies and surveys is mixed.
For the business world, these studies offer an important insight into consumer perception and underline how important Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be for businesses.
It’s for this reason that I think it’s worth examining recent research, considering what it means for businesses, how they can adapt and why it’s important for them to do so.
The first point to note is that CSR isn’t just good for the environment and communities – it’s likely to significantly influence business success. Recent consumer polls by Edelman, and Young & Rubicam, show that 87 per cent of UK consumers expect companies to consider their impact on society as much as their own business interests, while more than 70 per cent of people make a point of buying from companies with views similar to their own.
With this in mind, let us look at a recent study by JWTIntelligence and EthosJWT of UK, US and Canadian consumers, which showed how sceptical consumers are of CSR efforts. Some 88 per cent of those polled were concerned that money doesn’t go where promised and more than 75 per cent believe companies need to provide more information on how funds are allocated to charitable or social causes.
When we consider the facts highlighted by these studies – the majority of consumers seek out brands with socially responsible values and the majority of consumers are sceptical about companies’ efforts in this area – we can infer that many businesses could damaging their profitability by failing to demonstrate they are genuinely committed to CSR.
Some might dismiss these findings as a sign that consumers are too cynical, but I believe that doesn’t give consumers enough credit.
Instead, I feel these findings show that too many companies see CSR as an add-on, rather than an integral part of how their business operates.
A strong CSR policy is important for our communities and this research shows it’s important for business. Underlining its importance, research shows it can also play a key role in employee development.
A recent study by the consultancy Corporate Citizenship, which tracked the learning and development of over 500 volunteers in 16 blue-chip companies, showed how enabling employees to participate in charitable initiatives could actually deliver returns to businesses by reducing training and development costs.
The study revealed that those employees taking part in voluntary initiatives had improved their communication, coaching, influencing and negotiating abilities and were more adaptable – valuable and transferable skills for any business, regardless of size or sector.
It should also be noted that giving employees a sense of pride by empowering them to make a difference to their communities can help with staff retention. It’s for this reason that it should come as no surprise that efforts to help staff volunteer are taken into account when the Sunday Times Best Companies to work for lists are compiled.
It’s for all these reasons that we’ve made social responsibility a central part of our company culture at Business Environment, placing CSR at the heart of the business by offering employees time off work, on top of their usual holiday allowance, so that they can carry out charitable work and support good causes.
We’ve also donated services in kind to good causes, including Rays of Sunshine, a charity helping seriously ill children, and have raised money for charities our employees have a personal connection with.
When research makes clear how important corporate social responsibility is for the planet, communities, your customers and employees, the question shouldn’t be ‘why CSR?’ We should instead ask ‘why not?’
David Saul is Managing Director of Business Environment