We tout ourselves as a firm that helps clients look at issues of sustainability. More specifically, we say we design and deliver leadership training that helps leaders have impact for the greater good -not only in their work-a-day worlds, but also in their communities. If you drill into reading our marketing collateral, eventually you’ll pick up on the fact that we’re very solid in our stance on social responsibility. Our goal is simply to help our clients generate wealth and have more impact. Like so many expressions, “social responsibility” has been politicized along with everything that begins with the letters S-O-C-I-A-L. Maybe it’s time for a new term, or maybe it’s time just to re-clarify the old one.
Here’s our definition of “Social Responsibility”:
“…an ethical and ideological approach to business that assumes sustainable profit is best achieved by taking into account the well-being of society .”
In action, social responsibility is when a business takes full accountability for its impact on society through its influence on customers/communities, employees, its supply chain and the environment.
What makes our definition unique is quite simple, we believe sustainable profit is THE key outcome of acting in a socially responsible fashion. It’s not as if we invented the notion that profitability is tied to doing what’s right, we didn’t; companies like Starbucks, Kellogg, the Gap, Herman Miller, Novozymes and Union Pacific are proving it.
Need more detail? Try this on for size:
Environment – Would you consider a company that examines its operations in terms of waste generation and efficient energy usage smart? I would, and apparently so do the thousands of companies who have decided to first understand and then reduce their impact on the environment as part of their social responsibility strategy.
Employees – Would you want to invest in a company that addresses issues of culture, employee engagement and working environment as a key cost to manage for profitability or quality? Hopefully, you answered “Yes!” because as it turns out, companies whose cultures outperform the competition also out-sell, out-deliver, out-execute and out-produce companies with less effective cultures.
Supply Chain – If costs are equal, would you rather purchase products from a company that gets it raw materials or unfinished goods from a country or organization that exploits people and the environment or one that treats people equitably and works to preserve the environment? Duhh. In actuality, the data shows that costs don’t even have to be equal, they just have to be close to equal for consumers to make a better choice. Not bad for a society that is coming out of its worst economic downturn since The Depression!
Customers/Communities – Customers like to know that the businesses they buy products and services from invests some of its profits back in to the community, or at least that its employees are active members of the community, but that alone isn’t enough to justify corporate community investment. Investing back in to the communities from which profit is derived is simple ecology; if we feed that which nourishes us, it will grow and continue to nourish us. Neglect it or exploit it without caring for it and it eventually dies or becomes sick.
How do you decide where to begin? Each of our clients has a different social responsibility entry point, and every one of them is making progress. Our recommendation is this: begin where the greatest gains can be made in terms of profit. If you’re in a business where there is market share to be won, go after top-line profitability (customers/community). If the issue is quality, product or service performance, consider starting with employees. Are costs creeping up faster than the market can bear? Look for ways to increase efficiency, reduce the amount of stuff you send to the landfill or reduce your energy footprint. Let’s begin by calling “Social Responsibility” what it is – a mechanism to do well by doing good.