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Andrea Newell headshot

Is Honesty No Longer Enough in CSR Communication?

In the recent series CSR 2010 on In Good Company (Vault’s CSR blog), John Kim, Herman Miller’s A Better World Marketing Manager suggests that even complete honesty in communicating a company’s good work may longer be enough in this cynical consumer climate. Kim describes the current marketing environment as rife with greenwashing misdirection, consumer confusion and commonplace green and sustainable communication efforts, making it difficult for companies that are truly doing good to “cut through the clutter” and differentiate themselves. Common decency tells us that if you are honest, earnest and making a good faith CSR effort, customer loyalty and sales will follow - but is that still true?

Kim questions whether marketing has become so saturated with green messages that it has all faded into background noise, resulting in consumer immunity. Instead of green and sustainable being strong selling points, do consumers now automatically expect companies to make a quality product and make the world a better place? Having just gone mainstream, has genuine CSR already lost its power and individuality?

No. Complete honesty in communication IS still part of the solution (backed up by true CSR). It simply isn’t the whole solution.

Recognized by Fortune, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and Corporate Responsibility Magazine for “building a better world,” Herman Miller is already anchored on firm CSR ground inside and out. That still remains the first and biggest hurdle. A company’s CSR message can’t rise to the top without the company itself espousing solid CSR principles throughout its culture. With Herman Miller’s tall CSR reputation to stand on, Kim ponders HM’s current communication challenge: how to best broadcast their message?

Now that consumers are deluged with green marketing messages, Kim believes that brand messengers must step up to the next level and “keep our consumers engaged, not just informed.” No longer does messaging travel one way from company to consumer, but it needs to initiate a back and forth conversation.

As social media grows exponentially in popularity, are companies that engage in honest consumer conversations the ones who will be heard above the noise?  Do companies need to be more accessible as well as more transparent? And once more and more companies follow suit and become solid CSR citizens, are honest, accessible, responsive and conversant -- what’s  next?

Hopefully, a better world.

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

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 andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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