The Importance of Being Earnest in CSR

Fear of greenwashing and consumer skepticism may keep companies from publicizing and promoting their sustainability efforts, but that’s a mistake, according to Suzanne Shelton of the Shelton Group. She adds, “… not talking about them is the same as not doing them in the Land of Marketing and Advertising.”

Studies show that the majority of consumers prefer to buy products from companies that show they care about the environment, treat their employees well, and give back to the community, so not communicating your business’ efforts in these areas can mean you are losing customers and revenue, not to mention the opportunity to build brand loyalty. But how do you know your campaign is ready for public consumption? Ask your employees.

CSR efforts can be a double-edged sword these days. While customers want to buy products from a socially responsible company, they are becoming more suspicious of sustainability campaigns and want to be sure the company is genuine. This can make companies with even the most well-thought-out strategy leery of taking it public.

Shelton has some more good advice: take your customers on your CSR journey with you, be truthful, and own up to any fallibility. I agree, and add another suggestion: try your campaign out on your employees first. Solicit their feedback, listen to their ideas and encourage their enthusiasm. These are the people that know your company best. In early 2010, The National Environmental Education Foundation published a white paper detailing examples of the effectiveness of employee education and engagement on the success of sustainability programs. Companies like Intel, Citigroup, Cisco, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett Packard (HP) and Walmart showed substantial cost savings and positive environmental impact due to employee participation and foresee their programs only growing in the future.

More than employee engagement, if your CSR program can inspire your employees’ passion, that can translate into the best zero-cost and most earnest PR program you could wish for. A 2009 survey conducted by HP and the Simmons School of Management showed that more than 75% of respondents indicated that impacting society and engaging in activities in line with their values was important to them, yet only 45% reported that they were aware of their companies’ CSR efforts and 35% said they were engaged in them. Female employees who considered their employers ethical and knew they supported socially responsible initiatives said they were happier in their jobs and were more likely to sing their companies’ praises outside of work.

So if you’re debating launching your CSR initiative to the world, you can take its pulse first by gauging your employees’ temperature toward your effort. If they give it the thumbs up, your customers will probably do the same.

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

One response

  1. Engaging your employees in your CSR is truly key. I think this also has a some potential in helping companies become slightly more democratic as well. Engaging your employees in the companies CSR efforts would entail that they would have the opportunity to influence the process as well. If one could take in stakeholders in this process as well a sort of democracy of the affected could be implemented. So it’s definitely interesting.

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