How to Implement a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy

Starbucks employees in Malaysia launch a CSR initiative Rejina Dhillon / Marketing Interactive

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, it's fair to say that Starbucks is an alpha.

Even before going public on the New York Stock Exchange some 30 years ago, the coffee juggernaut was committed to both sustainability and community welfare, while, since then, it has achieved 99% ethically sourced coffee, completed millions of hours of community service and reduced the environmental impact of its coffee cups. Howard Schultz and his Starbucks brand were – and continue to be – pioneers in this realm.

For business owners, however, Starbucks is, foremost, a towering example of corporate social responsibility – and the impact it can have on your reputation. Whether it involves volunteering in the community, hiring thousands of refugees around the world, or investing in green technology, there are dozens of ways in which you can give something back.

With this in mind, how can you implement a corporate social responsibility strategy? After all, you want it to be authentic – not forced and awkward. To help, we've compiled a list of ways to efficiently and successfully implement your corporate social responsibility goals - and make a real difference in the process.

1. Install a Business Code of Ethics

In order for your business to possess some form of moral compass, it first needs a definitive code of ethics. How strict these guidelines are is up to you, of course; they can be the ten immovable commandments of your business, or simply a handful of philosophies that your company wishes to abide by when possible.

So, how do you compose one? Here are some actionable and practical tips for your list:

  • Value-Based: A value-based code of ethics highlights the company's primary value system, utilising core standards of responsibility, integrity and quality assurance. Essentially, value-based ethical codes emphasise your self-regulatory efforts. For example, a restaurant might install a code of conduct that showcases your commitment to high-quality food and hygienic staff.
  • Compliance-Based: Compliance-based code of ethics outlines the firm's dedication to complying with rules, regulations and laws put in place by any of the three levels of government. In addition to listing guidelines on how your enterprise will heed state mandates, your business, for instance, hires a compliance officer.
  • Professional: If your organisation maintains a workforce of professionals, such as engineers, certified public accountants or attorneys, then you can adhere to standards put in place by industry leaders. A team of doctors must heed to a medical association, or a group of market researchers must follow the criteria established by a market research entity.

A code of ethics can be likened to a self-imposed gold standard of operating and serving in the marketplace for customers and employees.

2. Donate to Industry-Related Organisations

Consumers appreciate businesses that donate a portion of profits or revenues to industry-related charities, either within the community or on the international stage. It suggests that they are giving back to society and that their brand has values.

While you can contribute funds to any non-profit you want, it would be more appropriate to send money to philanthropic outlets that are in your realm. For example, if you are in the food business, then you could participate in your city's food banks. Or, if you are in the apparel sector, then you can donate to causes that help give clothing to people living in poverty.

3. Attend Volunteering Events

Money is great, but another strategic endeavour is to put in some in-person time. Being on the ground suggests that you genuinely care for a particular cause, rather than just handing over cash, and can do a lot for your brand and your overall CSR strategy.

Maybe you could attend a volunteer-led event in your community one afternoon a month, such as helping at an animal rescue centre or raising funds to update a wing of a children's hospital. There are many worthy causes that desperately require volunteers, so you won't be short of options.

4. Go Green

The environment – specifically climate change – is a crucial issue that is dominating international discourse these days. Everybody is talking about going green, though adopting an environmentally friendly model is not nearly as universal a practice, especially in the marketplace. Since one of the main subjects of discussion pertains to the private sector being more socially responsible when it comes to Mother Nature, your business can therefore put your money where your mouth is and do what others in your industry fail to do.

Indeed, pursuing a green business model may not be as challenging as it first seems. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Initiate an environmental audit to determine how much you waste and what solutions you can institute.
  • Repurpose your goods from recycled material rather than virgin components.
  • Slash your paper usage and transition to a paperless office.
  • Erect recycling bins throughout the office place and encourage greener behaviour.
  • Provide rewards and incentives for your employees for doing their part to help the environment.

Your company does not need to be a climate zealot, but it can still incorporate mechanisms that shine a spotlight on your environmental consciousness.

5. Enhance Workplace Health and Safety

Although you will have already adopted certain mandatory workplace health and safety programmes, you can take your CSR initiative a step further by going above and beyond what is required of you. You can aim to establish new protocols, systems, procedures and technologies that prevent accidents, protect your workers and eliminate injuries.

What also makes this an effective tactic is that it could potentially attract new talent to your workplace. If workers appreciate that you are making serious investments into their health and safety, then you do not need to worry about high turnover rates or low-quality candidates.

Remember, this does not only need to apply to heavy-duty work, such as on a construction site. You can improve white-collar working conditions, too, by investing in standing desks or better chairs.

6. Make Honesty Key in Marketing

Let's be honest: businesses can often exaggerate in their marketing materials. However, in today's age of hyper-connectivity and ultra-fact-checking, it is more difficult to get away with being dishonest – which is a good thing for truthful and trustworthy companies such as yours.

An underrated addition to your CSR initiative is to change your marketing techniques so that they truly reflect your corporate integrity. If the performance of your product or service doesn't align with your claims, then there are millions of social media users that will call you out, damaging your reputation and your credibility in the process.

7. Create a Task Force for Implementation

Finally, to convey to your customers, your employees, your investors (if applicable) and the public that you are serious about embracing corporate social responsibility, you can establish a task force for implementation. This allows your business to achieve its desire for change and reach its full potential.

Here is what you need to know to keep your task force on point:

  • Appoint various employees to your task force, including a point-person who will be accountable for its oversight and coordination.
  • Outline a clear mandate to avoid confusion and achieve the corporate objective.
  • Monitor the task force's performance by planning, measuring and understanding the work being done.
  • Create internal committees – if you own a large company – that can organise your overall strategy.
  • Ensure that the task force engages with both employer and employee.

It is essential, however, that your task force does not take too long to achieve its goal, as this then suggests that you are dragging your feet – or that the group is not getting any work done. Where possible, set time limits that your team must adhere to.

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Corporate social responsibility is not only about having a positive impact on the economic, environmental and social factors around you, but also about keeping your workforce involved and adaptable to evolving landscapes. We are not a static society, after all; what was acceptable yesterday is not acceptable today. Profit has metastasised into a dirty word, and businesses are now almost required to be socially responsible. By following the guidance above, however, you can adopt a CSR strategy that can enhance your brand reputation, whatever you choose to focus on.

What other advice would you give to a business looking to be more socially responsible? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.