Social Responsibility definition
The concept of social responsibility has received increasing emphasis in business practice over recent years. It is a phrase commonly invoked, but just what is the definition of social responsibility?

At its core, being socially responsible means acknowledging accountability for the impact of one’s choices on the larger world. Businesses, in particular, are expected to make the welfare of society a priority when they make decisions, rather than focus exclusively on profit margins. This pertains not only to how companies spend money, but also to the ways in which they earn it.

Examples of socially responsible actions companies can take include:

  • Espousing fair labor practices
  • Incorporating ethical standards into contracts
  • Implementing environmentally sustainable practices
  • Matching employees’ donations to non-profit organizations

Definition of Social Responsibility

The definition of social responsibility, as the term is most commonly used, almost always pertains to business. Use of the phrase “corporate social responsibility” is so prevalent in recent years that it is frequently abbreviated to “CSR.” Even when social responsibility is mentioned on its own, a corporate element is often implied. According to a 2011 study by the MIT Sloan Management Review, sustainability has become a permanent component of 70 percent of business agendas. However, the concept of social responsibility need not be alienated from the individual.

The basic tenet of the idea is that those with the ability to affect change have an imperative to use it. For instance, in 2010, billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet solicited 40 of the wealthiest Americans for donations to the Giving Pledge campaign, accruing a total of approximately $125 billion. As of September 2013, the list of pledgers has grown to 114. While this is an application of social responsibility on a grand scale, the principle remains the same–individuals recognized their ability to contribute positively to society and seized the opportunity.

The average person may not be considered powerful in the way that Buffet and the Gates are, but every individual does have the power to contribute. Socially responsible actions that ordinary people can take include:

  • Volunteering
  • Supporting socially responsible companies through informed spending
  • Conserving energy by carpooling or turning off unnecessary houselights
  • Contacting their political leaders in favor of legislation they support

While these contributions may seem minor, they are integral. From the standpoint of social responsibility, every individual plays a role in global events and has an obligation to use whatever influence he or she has.

– Emma Burbage

Sources: The British Assessment Bureau, The Christian Science Monitor, The Giving pledge, Harvard
Kennedy School

Photo: Photobucket

Business for Social ResponsibilityBusiness for Social Responsibility
Large-scale factories, especially in developing countries, are infamous for their dangerous working conditions and lack of respect for their employees. Fortunately, this is taking a turn for the better, with businesses taking steps to ensure a bright future for their employees. There is even an organization dedicated solely to this purpose: Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).

BSR is a nonprofit that works with companies in order to improve the lives of their employees, and has so far partnered with over 250 organizations. Their goal is to work with these organizations in order to create a “systematic progress toward a just and sustainable world.”

The company states on their site that, “The role of business is to create and deliver products and services in a way that treats people fairly, meets individuals’ needs and aspirations within the boundaries of our planet and encourages market and policy frameworks that enable a sustainable future.”

One of the company’s main values is transparency and they heavily stress how important it is within any organization. BSR is hosting a conference in November focusing on this point and how transparency can improve supply change, climate, consumer engagement and impacts on a community.

Another main focus of BSR is keeping the earth clean through environmentally friendly business tactics. The company states on their site the belief that, “integrated, far-sighted planning can create resilient low-carbon emission transport networks, particularly in new urban areas.”

BSR works directly with farmers on sustainability training to keep the farming practices safe and environmentally friendly. They also do work reducing supply chain GHG emissions and work with ecosystem services to ensure all around sustainable businesses.

To make the safe and fair practices come full circle, BSR takes care of partnered companies’ employees by creating HERproject (HER=Health Enables Returns). This is a life skills training program for the factory workers, particularly the women, in BSR-partnered companies.

HERproject holds classes on health education to teach about general health knowledge, reproductive systems and preventative care. The group also has a finance curriculum, filled with modules about formal savings account and budgeting techniques.

HERproject works in the field with local NGOs, clinics and even governments to personalize the training given to each group. Beginning in Bangladesh, it has expanded to include Cambodia, China, Egypt, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan and Vietnam; it has plans to begin projects in Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico and Myanmar.

USAID headed a global health research project that showed when employees are better taken care of, their company is better off economically. When workers feel well, they are able to perform well. They do not need as many sick days, they become more productive and therefore more easily meet production goals.

Some notable corporations that have proven the success are J.Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Colombia Sportswear, and since the incorporation of BSR practices, they have strengthened their global supply chains. Sandra Cho of Colombia Sportswear states about HERproject:

“HERproject shows great return on investment numbers, but that’s not what’s inspiring about the project to me. What is inspiring is seeing the women excited about the knowledge they’re gaining and sharing, and the sense of empowerment that gives them, that’s exciting for consumers, too.”

BSR is making a global impact for business practices, and in turn they have helped the world move towards a more responsible, cleaner, more ethical future.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: Global Envision, BSR 1, CSR Wire, Global Hand, BSR 2
Photo: CSRTimes

In the age of big profit, big business, little-concern corporations, firms are not considered particularly environmentally conscious or self-aware. Since the presumed mentality of most firms is to maximize profits with little internal expenses, corporations tend to possess a short time horizon, pursuing immediate gains at the expense future externalities. Such mentality has leveraged hefty damage to the environment in haunting catastrophes such as British Petroleum’s oil spill in the Mexican Gulf during 2010.

These events have quite literally scarred the memory of Earth. In a statement released by the United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP decreed that “there was a growing gap between the efforts to reduce the impact of business and industry on nature and the worsening state of the planet” and that “this gap is due to the fact that only a small number of companies in each industry are actively integrating social and environmental factors into business decisions.”

The handful of corporations that operate with a social conscience often uphold corporate social responsibility by maintaining ethical and environmental responsibility for its actions. Verdigris Group, a real estate and consulting firm, has engineered a set of sustainable initiatives for partnering businesses. According to Verdigris Group, the noblest example that a firm can set for other businesses is achieving highly on markets without compromising environmental integrity.

Another firm that has put corporate social responsibility initiatives into action is RBC Wealth Management USA, which reportedly allocates $50 million to organizations that protect fresh water reservoirs along with a 10-year commitment to carry out provisions of their own. Each year, RBC employees participate in non-profit community activities in order to raise awareness about Earth’s limited fresh water resources. In doing so, the firm builds a sense of respectability, attracting future employees and future consumers, which in the long-run may place corporate social responsibility businesses ahead of others.

Furthermore, operating with corporate social responsibility not only benefits the environment but can, apparently, also benefit firms as well. According to Forbes, the majority of CSR corporations believe that their employees are happier and also more efficient than that of non-CSR firms. Despite the vast amount of corporations that operate with little regard to the environment, it appears that more and more firms are shifting towards corporate social responsibility initiatives in order to make profit while also making a positive impact on the world.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: United Nations, Forbes

Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a term that is becoming more and more common in the workplace. According to Mark Whitman of Sustainable Business Forum, a study by MIT in 2011 showed that sustainability is a permanent part of about 70 percent of corporate outlines.

This is more important than just adjusting for corporate philanthropy. As it turns out, Whitman said, doing good is good for business as well. There are several large benefits of CSR.

1.) Corporate Social Responsibility is good for business:

According to Better Business Journey, a Small Business Consortium from the United Kingdom, “88% of consumers said they were more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society.” Furthermore, according to Simply CSR, customers do not accept “unethical business practices,” and using CSR methods can effectively increase customer retention and win business that is entirely new.

According to One4All, an organization committed to informing companies about CSR, a Harvard University study found that companies that are stakeholder-balanced “showed four times the growth rate and eight times employment growth when compared to companies that focused only on shareholders and profit maximization.” As it turns out, important stakeholders expect corporations to become socially responsible. Customers, consumers, and investors expect a corporation to “understand and address” relevant social issues.

2.) Talented employees want Corporate Social Responsibility:

Aside from customers, practicing CSR helps a company retain valuable employees as well. Whitman said that 53 percent of workers said that “a job where I can make an impact” was necessary to maintain workplace happiness. Furthermore, Whitman said, 35 percent would take a pay cut “to work for a company committed to Corporate Social Responsibility.”

According to Jeanne Meister for Forbes, “employees now want more from their employer than a paycheck. They want a sense of pride and fulfillment from their work, a purpose and importantly a company’s whose values match their own.” She said CSR is crucial to attracting talented employees to a corporation.

3.) Implementing Corporate Social Responsibility sets you apart from your competition:

Simply CSR said that using Corporate Social Responsibility improves a business’s reputation and standing within public forums. Companies that strive for a unique ethical standpoint are set apart from the rest in the eyes on consumers, according to John Paluszek of the Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Branding an organization as ethical builds a positive reputation.

In an interview with Forbes in May, Garratt Hasenstab, Director of Sustainability at the Verdigris Group, a real estate development and consulting firm, said that they save money by operating efficiently, but that they believe setting a good example is the greatest benefit. They have inspired other organizations to do the same, Hasenstab said.

“Our CSR policy is at the core of our daily operations and guides our future progress,” Hasenstab said. “Our clients want to work with us because we are focused on a healthier and more productive world.”

– Alycia Rock

Sources: Simply CSR, Forbes, Sustainable Business, One4All CSR, Forbes Corporate Responsibility
Photo: Global MED

As a modern business trend, it is hard to know whether “corporate social responsibility”—or CSR—will be a lasting ethos that transforms the way companies conduct business or a passing fad designed to make big corporations more likable. CSR may be thought of as a corporation’s conscience—a set of internal policies that govern how the company interacts with and relates to its community, its people and its environment.

There is no question that executives and business leaders have adopted the lexicon of corporate social responsibility. As The Economist notes, “It would be a challenge to find a recent annual report of any big international company that justifies the firm’s existence merely in terms of profit, rather than service to the community.” In the late 1990s, a group of CEOs went as far as launching a global organization—the World Business Council for Sustainable Development—for the purpose of discussing strategic issues related to sustainable business practices. The rhetoric is clear: corporations care.

The question is what kinds of corporate actions have resulted from the emerging ethos of CSR. One area where companies have been keen on improvement is energy reduction. For example, General Mills instituted an energy audit program, and in 2012 reduced its energy consumption by 7 percent. It’s a win-win for General Mills—the company saves money and highlights its commitment to the environment. Other corporations like Solo Cup Company are engaging their employees to help with community cleanup events, trash collection programs or recycling drives at Solo facilities.

But some critics question the motives of companies that institute policies and public relations campaigns related to corporate social responsibility. One argument is that CSR is simply a marketing scheme developed to attract consumers to certain brands.

Many dissenters point out that markets are not concerned with ethics or social responsibility. In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Deborah Doane explains, “CSR can hardly be expected to deliver when the short-term demands of the stock market provide disincentives for doing so.”

While the companies and critics each present compelling arguments for or against CSR, it may be that corporate social responsibility is just a negotiated balance between companies and the communities in which they operate. It is how the company achieves or bolsters legitimacy with its potential consumers. The business benefit, of course, is that the company will profit in some way from its investment in CSR. After all, conventional wisdom says the primary objective of any corporation is not principle, but profit.

– Daniel Bonasso
Sources: Standford Social Innovation Review, The Economist, Corporate Watch
Photo: Career Realism


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1% for the Planet“The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” –Senator Gaylord Nelson

Formed in 2002, a growing network of businesses has been committed to giving 1% of their sales to improving the ecology of the planet. As businesses have aligned themselves with the vision of 1% for the Planet and joined the growing network of businesses of all sizes, their self- and net-worth have risen.

In addition to getting companies to commit to giving back, 1% for the Planet has also organized the music outreach program. Musicians such as Jack Johnson, G. Love, Submarines, Kaiser Cartel, Josh Ritter and many others contribute to the project. The collaboration of 1% for the Planet and the musicians led to an album featuring many exclusive or rare versions of songs. Sales of the album support NGOs work on environmental issues. Jack Johnson was the first huge hit for 1% for the Planet, which fueled the explosion of the 1% network.

The 1% for the Planet network is 1,400 businesses in 38 countries giving $15 million annually to 2,000 global environmental groups. Companies join to gain the network, recognition and morality of the group. Once the business signs the licensing agreement and membership dues are paid, they are free to use the 1% logo. The logo is similar to the certification of environmentally sustainable business practices. However, the 1% group does not look into the practices of the business.

1% does not collect money, other than the membership dues, from the companies. The member companies donate directly to the environmental group of their choice. Recipients are chosen from the list of approved 501(c)(3) organizations (or internationally equivalent) with a high degree of successful projects. The preservation of the Madison River in Montana. 1% of donations prevented the famous angler river from being developed by real-estate. This project was initiated by the first two members of the 1% business network: Yvon Chouinard owner of Patagonia Inc and Craig Matthews owner of Blue Ribbon Flies. Other businesses that are members include Cliff Bars, Sweat Pea Bicycles, New Belgium Brewing Co. Chickamaw Organic Farm Ranch and Wildlife, 3 Forks Insurance, 5 AM (Japan), 7zerolab (The Netherlands), 8Bottles and many, many more.

Katherine Zobre

Photo: 1% for the Planet

Biking in Bangkok is More Than a Tour
For two bicycle tour companies, biking in Bangkok is more than a tour. These two extraordinary companies not only give excellent guided tours of the hidden gems of this city, but also have significant impacts on the poverty in and around Bangkok.

Bangkok, the coastal capital of Thailand has two seasons, covers 606 sq miles, and 18 million residents, and approximately 1.5 million slum dwellers. There are over 400 Buddhist temples and thousands of other tourist attractions including the Royal Palace and the famous Khaosan Road.  One could spend a lifetime discovering new parts of Bangkok. As a tourist with limited time, the best way to see the real Bangkok is to pound the pavement with locals.

The first bicycle tour company is Co van Kessel. Mr. van Kessel, a Dutch ex-patriot, started the tour company over 30 years ago. Frustrated with the image of Bangkok as a city of uninhibited urban sprawl, grid-lock traffic and suffocating pollution, Mr. van Kessel started a bicycle tour company to change this image. His was the first bicycle tour company in Bangkok and has been working towards making Bangkok a cyclist-friendly city ever since.

In addition to being an entrepreneur, Co van Kessel bike tour company is also generous with their time and money. They often donate money to local charity organizations. Additionally, every year they donate bicycles that are unfit for tours but still in good working condition to villages in the north of Thailand. The bicycles serve the villagers as their primary form of transportation thereby allowing them to pursue livelihoods otherwise unavailable.

The second, Recreational Bangkok Biking (RBB), is also run by a Dutch ex-patriot, Andre Breuer. RBB offers several different tours each with their own extraordinary sights. They offer a variety of walking, biking, rickshaw, boat and combination tours throughout the city. Their goal is to give tourists a chance to see what Thai life is really all about—colorful markets full of sounds and smells that make your whole body tingle, daily life along the canals that wind through the city, and stretches of green space one could hardly imagine existed when limited to main tourist areas.

What makes this company stand out is not only the high quality of the tours but also the social commitment Mr. Breuer insists on. His employees are local, mostly low-class Thais. The employees start out as bicycle mechanics and learn English through interacting with foreigners—two skills that are extremely valuable to enhancing their living standards. The restaurants, food stands, boat drivers, and bicycle repair establishments are locals, mostly slum dwellers. Mr. Breuer also uses his influence and business network to help fund a local orphanage, the Mercy Center, and a kindergarten. (Mercy Center is located in the largest slum in Bangkok, Khlong Toey and serves as an orphanage and rehabilitation center for those with AIDS.)  Tourists have the option of stopping at the school and talking to the children, who learn English from their frequent interactions.

It is easy to get sucked into the tourist traps in Bangkok. Everyone wants to take you for a ride. Let yourself be taken by Recreational Bangkok Biking or Co van Kessel and you will not regret it!

Katherine Zobre

Sources: Co Van Kessel , The Mercy Center
Photo: Google Plus

B Corp Certification for Socially-Responsible BusinessesAs Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) grows, wouldn’t it be great if consumers could have clear indicators of which companies and products were part of this beneficial social movement? There is – B Corp Certification.  A concept introduced five years ago, B Corp is “like the Fair Trade label but for a whole company, not just a bag of coffee,” said co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert.

The organization certifies companies once they have met standards of social and environmental performance and have changed their bylaws to take into account the impact of their decisions on the environment, community, and employees. “Increasingly there are businesses that want to create value for all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders,” said Andrew Kassoy, another of B Corp’s founders. “These companies are competing not just to be the best in the world, but best for the world.”

About 650 companies have embraced the status so far, including Patagonia, Etsy, and most recently Ben & Jerry’s, one of the original socially driven companies (now owned by Unilever). Mr. Kassoy called Ben & Jerry’s news a “big deal,” and hoped Unilever’s decision to pursue B Corp certification would “influence other multinationals” to do the same.

David Griswold, the founder of Sustainable Harvest, a Portland-based coffee importer, knew from the beginning that he wanted to start a project to help others. But he also saw challenges to the success of starting a non-profit – not being able to “reach scale.” They needed significant investment from the beginning to accomplish their mission, and they needed money to grow. “It was only when my company grew, and I began to reinvest my earnings in coffee communities abroad, that I saw I could really make a difference.” He said he felt that a for-profit business would work best for his goals.

B Corp certification helps with giving “legitimacy” to for-profit businesses that want to prove their moral sincerity, especially when trying to partner with non-profit foundations to increase their community development.  It also helps explain to investors why they operate as they do to secure more capital, and allows consumers to make educated buying choices.

Devin Hibbard, a B Corp supporter and owner of Beads For Life – a non-profit that operates “very much” like a business, says, in the end “it’s all about poverty eradication” through commerce.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The New York Times
Video: You Tube

Citizens of the world are less and less supportive of capitalism solely based on maximizing short-term profits. More and more companies are acknowledging their obligation to all the participants in their business, from the shareholders, to the employees, to the communities they operate in. Unilever is one such company, realizing and owning their need to contribute to the societal welfare and environmental impact for the countries it operates in. They want to propose a new model of capitalism that focuses on the long term, in which companies try to solve social and environmental problems and give equal importance to the needs of communities, as well as their shareholders.

Unilever has over 400 brands worldwide under its umbrella, ranging from foods to household cleaners, including Lipton, Knorr, Dove, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; sold in almost every country, with two billion people using a Unilever product every day. Their huge distribution network enables them to make huge changes on a massive scale.

They have developed a range of initiatives that both help people as well has support their business’s growth. One focus is on hygiene, where public health specialists advise that the most effective intervention is to encourage hand washing at key times of the day – before and after eating, etc. Unilever developed the brand Lifebuoy with a marketing strategy based on campaigns to educate mothers and children to adopt this simple gesture. Trial programs in Mumbai, India have shown that, compared to control groups, those who benefited from the change in behavior were 25% less likely to suffer from diarrhea and were less absent from school for medical reasons. The campaign is now being expanded to Southeast Asia and Africa. It has a triple advantage – the consumer is healthier, the company sees a decline in health care costs for its employees, and Unilever benefits from increased sales of soap.

Unilever’s greatest impact is within the agricultural sector. Worldwide, the company purchases 12% of the world’s black tea, 3% of the tomatoes, and 3% of the palm oil. They have committed to halve their environmental footprint by 2020, and source 100% of their agricultural raw materials sustainably while enhancing the livelihoods of people across their value chain.

A third sphere of influence is in economic development through engagement and strengthening of their small-business affiliates. Unilever is connected with more than one million small farmers alone. They are able to work directly with the farmers to improve their productivity through a partnership with local and international organizations, expand their distribution efficiency, and train them in new techniques. Oxfam estimates the number of small-businesses that Unilever touches is more than half a billion, and improving their lives and businesses is an effective way to reduce poverty.

And, this April 9th – you can get free ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, as they “give back” to their communities all over the world.

– Mary Purcell

Source: UN ITC