The concept of corporate social responsibility, that businesses should both self-regulate and benefit their communities, goes back to before the 1800s. In America, at the time, states had the right to invalidate a business’s license to operate should the business act irresponsibly.
Shortly thereafter, in 1819, the Supreme Court ruling that corporations were legal persons (citizens) protected by the Constitution negated that right. This elevated the concept of corporations being “good citizens” to a voluntary level.
So if being a good corporate citizen is voluntary, and presumably costly, why would any corporation choose to do so? The answer is a fairly simple one: It’s good business.
From Google to Ben & Jerry’s, some of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations have integrated measures to promote good corporate citizenship into their mission statements and business models. And it is paying off.
The Who’s Who of Corporate Social Responsibility
It is no secret that some of the world’s largest and most successful corporations are incorporating good corporate citizenship into their culture. But how are they doing it? How are they benefiting? And how can you follow their leads? Just look at these three great examples of corporate social responsibility.
For many people, their first exposure to a corporation working for “good” was related to Google. The search giant has made aggressive moves on multiple fronts toward good citizenship, but it is clear that, as one of the world’s largest corporations, every single effort is paying off. For example, Google Green is a corporate effort to use resources efficiently and support renewable power. But recycling and turning off the lights does more for Google than lower costs. Investments in these efforts have real-world effects on the bottom line. Google has seen an overall drop in power requirements for their data centers by an average of 50 percent. These savings can then be redirected to other areas of the business or to investors.
You don’t have to be a Google-size company to benefit from being green and practicing corporate social responsibility. Installing energy-efficient lights, allowing telecommuting, and recycling will not only improve your world, it will result in quantifiable cost savings that you can see in the bottom line.
The printing giant offers many programs supporting corporate social responsibility. Their Community Involvement Program encourages it by directly involving employees. Since 1974, more than half a million Xerox employees have participated in the program. In 2013 alone, Xerox earmarked more than $1.3 million to facilitate 13,000 employees to participate in community-focused causes. The return for Xerox comes not only in community recognition, but also in the commitment employees feel when causes they care for are supported by their employers.
Maybe your firm doesn’t have 13,000 employees, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from this method. By incorporating a limited number of billable hours per year for volunteer efforts, you will enjoy the dual effects of helping your community as well as increasing your employee morale and therefore productivity. Perhaps organizing large group activities for charities such as Habitat for Humanity can bring your group together, and you can spread your name with inexpensive event T-shirts.
Very often the idea of “good corporate citizens” can seem like a concept that is completely removed from our day-to-day realities. Sure, mega-corporations can have volunteer programs or philanthropic arms that focus on big-picture issues, but that seems so highbrow. If that is how you think, then take a look at Target. While many shoppers may think of it as just another big-box retailer, Target is more than just a place to buy tires and milk, they are a prime example of corporate social responsibility.
Since 1946, Target has been committing more and more effort and assets toward local and environmental support for the communities in which they have stores. Over the past several years, the company’s efforts—from growing sustainable practices to educational grants—have amounted to 5 percent of its profit going to local communities. That’s $4 million each week! In the area of education alone, Target has donated more than $875 million since 2010.
Can your company afford to give $4 million a week to good causes? Most likely the answer is no, but the good news is that you don’t have to. By supporting any good cause in your community, you provide two important factors that pay dividends. You have employees who are proud to work for you and clients who are proud to be associated with you. The financial return of either can be many orders of magnitude.
Bring These CSR Examples Home
Many of these programs, such as allotted time for volunteer work and community donations (which Autodesk does with its Autodesk Foundation) can begin as small-scale efforts.
The cost to the bottom line will quickly be reimbursed when you see your socially active employees producing more and your supported community engaging with your firm. For the survival of this planet, it’s crucial for people to do their part to improve the world. The bonus is that they will get so much in return.