Industry trends

Where next for CSR?

Where next for CSR?

If there was one keyword that stood out more than any other at the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) National Conference 2017, it was ‘meaning’. It might seem rather naïve or insincere to talk about businesses existing to make the world a better place. After all, it’s still money that makes the world go around. But in 2017, evidence suggests that commercial success is becoming increasingly tied up with having meaning or a social purpose.

In the very first seminar of the day, Matt Peacock, group director for corporate affairs at Vodafone, explained how in today’s connected world, businesses have to live up to the expectations of society at large and act in the public interest, as well as satisfying shareholders and board members. He declared CSR (corporate social responsibility) ‘a broken model’, emphasising that it can no longer be used to ‘greenwash’ a company’s activities and that its days of ‘sitting on the margins’ are over. Rather it must ‘go with the grain of business’ and be owned by those responsible for P&L (profit & loss). He gave the example of Vodafone’s focus on empowering women and, in particular, its goal to bring the benefits of mobile communication to an additional 50 million women living in emerging markets. “Who wouldn’t want 50 million additional customers?” he said. He further cited the Better Business Blueprintand the Arthur Page Society as organisations that are supporting this change in the way boardrooms think.

Melissa Hinds, managing director of brand at Edelman, later supported Peacock’s views with findings from the 2017 Edelman Earned Brand Study. 43% of respondents in the survey said that they are buying or boycotting based on a brand’s position on a social or political issue, while 62% said they would not buy a brand if it stayed silent on an issue it had an obligation to address. But it’s not just about raising awareness of issues for companies, Hinds said; their initiatives have actually got to make a difference.

Taking a stance on an issue – and making a difference – is something our client Volvo has understood for a long time. Speaking about the environment, former Volvo Group President Pehr G. Gyllenhammar famously said in 1972: “We are part of the problem – but we are also part of the solution”. Since then the company has become an industry leader in low emission vehicles and construction equipment, reduced carbon emissions at several of its plants to zero, and is funding research and education to help slash emissions throughout the supply chain. And all these achievements haven’t just been for the sake of good PR. Low emissions are now a stipulation in many tenders, carbon neutral facilities have lowered operating costs, and collaborations within the industry have helped formed lucrative new business partnerships. Having a clear social purpose has been integral to Volvo’s success and, judging by the number of speakers at this year’s CIPR conference who chose the topic – not only from Vodafone and Edelman, but also Everton FC, Ben & Jerry’s and LadBible – companies around the world are waking up to the idea that a more meaningful and more valuable business can be one and the same.

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