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Supercharge Your CSR Commitments Through Employee Engagement

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By Leslie Bennett and Elizabeth Dove

According to early findings of the Conference Board of Canada’s second Canadian Corporate Community Investment Benchmarking report, employees are the drivers of reputation.  Happy employees usually equal profitable companies.  For these reasons, most companies are putting increased resources into improving their employee engagement metrics.

As demonstrated at the Conference Board of Canada’s CSR Summit in Toronto Oct. 29-30, a number of Canada’s most successful companies are leveraging their corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments as opportunities to create fulfilling employee engagement opportunities.

From the successful Green Shield CSR strategy that helps employees to make a difference for their clients, to SaskEnergy employees installing weather stripping in low-income homes as a part of their Home Energy Legacy Program, tips and cautionary tales demonstrated a number of key elements for success.


  • Start at the top: Interface, a modular carpet company that is consistently on a number of sustainability indexes, is able to point to the bold commitments and leadership around sustainability led by its founder.  At the Co-operators, even senior leadership have sustainability objectives in their performance measures.

  • Get employee buy-in on CSR commitments: Royal Bank of Canada's internal campaign for its Blue Water Project included both education on the importance of water conservation and fun.  The employee 'What’s your water personality?' survey also sent educational messages to individuals based on their water 'personality type.'

  • Tell awesome stories: Great videos like those shared from Canadian Tire on the success of its Olympic commitment and Ford Canada’s video starring employees celebrating the achievement of their zero waste to landfill commitment stoke the fires of pride and affiliation.  An even deeper level of emotional connection can be achieved with internal stakeholders through videos that show the impact of CSR efforts, like the SaskEnergy video where low-income families share the importance of the energy retrofits they received through the Home Energy Legacy Program.

  • Give employees opportunity to participate in community initiatives: It's best if, as with Cisco’s Connected North program that creates connectivity for remote communities and SaskEnergy’s Home Energy Legacy Program, you utilize employee’s core competencies where you can.  SaskEnergy shared a caution on employee engagement that you must ensure employees maintain role productivity alongside community involvement.  Also, as a crown corporation, SaskEnergy has to be able to answer to criticism that taxpayers’ money is paying for employees doing something other than their job.

  • Assemble a Great Team: Jeff Goldman, of Step Forward Paper, hosted a session on the 10 Keys to Success in Eco-Entrepreneurship, highlighting for us that an authentic CSR program with meaningful employee participation has its roots in human resource decisions to prioritize values in the hiring process.

In fact, in our experience, wide commitment to a defined set of core values is essential for creating an organizational culture in which everyone pulls for the success of corporate strategies.  Teams united around a purpose beyond profit are more productive and loyal.  Whether delegated from the top down, like Interface, or built through employee pride of association with smart community impact projects, carefully crafted CSR programs have the power to be the galvanizing force that makes other corporate strategies succeed.

It would have been great to hear from presenters how their employee engagement metrics have moved as a result of CSR strategies.  Better – what tactics do they use to create a culture where the level of employee engagement consistently pulls for an integrated corporate social responsibility strategy?  Perhaps this is on the agenda for next year's summit.

Image credit: Flickr/thetaxhaven

Leslie Bennett designs and delivers powerful programs for corporate clients that shift cultures, improve results, and change the future. She specializes in creating and customizing programs that meet the needs of each client. She develops powerful partnerships and collaborates on projects that support Corporate Social Responsibility goals in Canada and the United States. Her executive coaching skills expand her clients' collaborative relationships with colleagues and their strategic success.  She is passionate about mental health and supporting organizations to have workplace cultures that embrace diversity, inclusion and are mentally healthy. She is the founder of Open Spaces Learning, a Canadian change management firm helping companies realize business and social impact.

Elizabeth Dove is a specialist in strategically engaging the public, companies and government on sustainability and social change. She has worked as senior staff and consultant for initiatives that support the arts, child welfare, public health and particularly international development. Passionate about the power of collaboration, she seeks out projects that bring together actors from different sectors to create value for their organizations and the broader community.  She is Senior Vice-President, Strategy at The Divinsky Group and an Associate at Open Spaces Learning, a Canadian change management firm helping companies realize business and social impact. Twitter: @EDove5

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