You would have to be living under a rock if the word “sustainability” has not crossed your path. Or, you have an inkling of what it means, but not a clue what to do about it other than cart the recycle bin out to the curb each week full of boxes and leftover plastic containers. That means you are trying right? Wrong …
It means you are keeping up with the neighbors. But, what about your business? Are you keeping up with your competitors? Do you actually have a social responsibility strategy in place? Because if you don’t, you are old school and no longer in the mainstream.
It may be helpful to you to take a look at the 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted unanimously by the United Nations members. It is a shared blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030 and addresses the global challenges we face. I urge you to educate yourself and read more about its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/. You will easily find ways that you can weave some of these goals in and out of your social responsibility strategy and I will also give you some ideas in my next blog post.
Social responsibility is a metaphor for a different approach to business. And like the business strategy that guides the day to day sale of your products and services, your social responsibility strategy must be well thought out and support both your business strategy and your company brand.
This interdisciplinary approach offers greater impact because strategy does not end with your business capabilities. But, if you are just taking your initial steps into this new way of doing business, it can be daunting. Where and how do you begin? Consider the following:
1. Benchmark where you are today. You don’t know where to go until you know where you are coming from. Start by auditing the processes and procedures that your company has in place today and ways that you can do better. This is an opportunity to look deep within your business and think about corners you may be cutting in the areas of environment, safety and governance (ESG) - in the name of profit.
Ask yourself, are your employees completely safe? Have you left a negative impact to the environment and community around you by the decisions you have made? Are there ways that you can make your manufacturing process more efficient? Basically, consider the value exchange between you and your stakeholders. To help you out, I have provided an assessment you can take at:
2. Make sure you aren’t the lone ranger. You need a team. It takes a village to create a robust social impact program and everyone needs to be onboard. Internally, you will need to seek management and board approval and ultimately, the buy-in from your employees. And, you will need to begin thinking about ways you can engage your customers and convert them to brand ambassadors.
It’s important that you take time to understand shareholder concerns as they shape the forces that affect your business. Socially conscious companies attract impact investors and new sources of income but if you are just moving into this space, it is likely you will need to communicate your vision to your investors - particularly those who need education on the benefits that sustainability measures can bring to the bottom line
3. Start small and keep it simple. It’s often a good idea to initiate internal programs such as energy savings or employee benefit programs first. Identify low-hanging fruit and short-term impact where you can show success quickly with a few changes. This can make communication and branding efforts less complicated and easily understood by customers who see their value.
The harder work may not be as obvious, though equally important, as you seek to strengthen resources or reduce supply chain costs or find ways that directly impact your local community such as volunteer days or local partnerships and alliances.
4. Be genuine and authentic in your efforts. In today’s world of transparency, customers are not easily sold on initiatives that appear to be marketing ploys. Ask yourself if your brand reflects your values in a way that is understood and appreciated. As social responsibility programs are no longer seen as the exception to the rule but the norm, stakeholders expect companies to walk the talk in every facet of their business, not just the donation of funds in philanthropy efforts.
If you have a social impact strategy in place, consider whether it is a bland copy of what other companies are doing or something genuine and unique. Half-hearted attempts will reflect badly on you and your company’s brand so if you’re not feeling it, consider other ways to spend your time and resources.
5. Consider your social responsibility strategy as a driver of innovation. We know that companies that challenge conventional wisdom are often the vanguards into new exciting industries. The road isn’t always easy, but the rewards can be great. When the result changes the world for the better, employees, investors, consumers and your community become your brand ambassadors and you become a beacon of light attracting top talent, new streams of revenue and respect and admiration.
Copyright © 2019
Linda Lattimore – all rights reserved