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CSR: From Bolt-On to Built-In

Social media has opened businesses up to a public panel that won’t let immoral behaviour be left unanswered. In a new research study released this week by Social Enterprise UK and the Cabinet Office, it was revealed that 53% of people believe businesses should be legally obliged to report on the positive and negative impact they have on society.

Businesses must adhere to demands for complete transparency and the need to become more human, but they should also see it as an opportunity. A great example of this is Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles.

For such an ethically aware brand, they were ashamed when they discovered that many of their products had a negative social impact through their manufacturing process. To address this, they launched a website that was open and honest about what was good and bad about their products and opened a dialogue as to what they intended to do about it. By doing so, they turned what could have been a confrontation of negative social sentiment into a conversation about how they intended to change. As a result, since the launch of the Footprint Chronicles sales have doubled and profits tripled.

Another interesting finding that came out of the research study was that just 16% of people thought that businesses shouldn’t have to worry about focusing on being socially responsible, whilst 3 times as many disagreed. Furthermore, 1 in 3 people said that they feel ashamed when buying from businesses considered socially irresponsible.

Chipotle have been doing some very interesting work with their content marketing strategy to drive positive change in the world’s food supply, delivering benefits to customers, employees and suppliers ‘Cultivating A Better World’. ‘The Scarecrow’ campaign demonstrates Chipotle’s commitment to change. With nearly 13.5 million views on You Tube, it has been praised as an innovative piece of marketing and applauded for its anti-factory-farming message. (Read our creative director Will Barnett’s thoughts on Chipotle’s content campaign in his ‘Observations from the Cannes Jury’).

Whilst what Chipotle have done with ‘The Scarecrow’ is great, they have however, recently come under fire for ‘borderline sweatshop’ work conditions and putting profits before people at a shop in Pennsylvania. In light of this, it will be interesting to see what Chipotle do next. A brand to watch.

People value businesses with a strong ethical and community focus. However, steps taken towards Corporate Social Responsibility are no longer enough. CSR has lost potency and authenticity as companies have used it to greenwash their brand reputation, rather than instigate real societal impact. A corporate conscience can’t be treated as a bolt on to a business strategy; it has to be built in.

Brands have become more than the marketing voice of the company, they now represent the culture of an organisation and consumers are asking themselves whether they want to be a part of that culture. CSR is no longer a viable strategy for business. Corporations have lost the ability to self-regulate to ensure they are compliant; public opinion does that now. Success rests on businesses that are ready to pursue a social purpose driven strategy. Social purpose, articulated and executed with true brand integrity will reward those who are ready to stand for something and drive for positive change.