How to create a corporate responsibility program from scratch

By Heather Jennings

A successful corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is beneficial for not only social causes, but also your company’s bottom line. Here’s how to build one from the ground up.

Corporate social responsibility programs aim to link a company’s social and environmental activities with its core values and business purpose. Whether you are a small business or a large corporation, implementing a CSR program can help your company improve employee engagement and better connect with stakeholders and customers. 

Nailing the basics 

The first priority on your company’s CSR program agenda should be finding practical ways to reduce your business’s carbon footprint. Your company can start reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use by installing energy and water-efficient fixtures, updating heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) and reinforcing operational best practices to staff through training.

Besides environmental efforts, there are a variety of simple actions your company can put in place to strengthen its CSR program. Consider donating a portion of the company’s revenue to not-for-profit organizations, or give products and services to worthy recipients for every sale made. Upholding and improving ethical labor practices for both local and international employees and vendors is another vital aspect of a CSR program.

Think outside the box

Once you have the fundamentals set up, it’s time to look at larger longer term projects in your CSR program. There’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to CSR, because the program should directly reflect your business and what it aims to achieve. Leveraging your company’s internal resources and employee skills are good ways to begin tackling social and environmental causes.

Additionally, arming your employees early on with the freedom to be innovative will encourage collaboration and engagement in the business. Employees at the food brand Campbell’s Canada, for example, conceived and developed a nutritious meal in a can called Nourish to target the growing problem of hunger. Campbell’s successfully developed the product by drawing on its expertise in product development, production, distribution and marketing.

Crunch the numbers  

Collecting and interpreting data plus establishing research funds are other ways your company can enact global change through its CSR program.

For example, the Hyatt Hotel Corporation’s CSR program Hyatt Thrive uses a database to track utility data across all of its hotels globally. The hotel chain also monitors its greenhouse gas emissions to better understand its environmental footprint. From this data, Hyatt has set long-term sustainability initiatives including reduction goals for energy and water use for 2015 and beyond. 

Meanwhile, AXA has used insights from its AXA Research Fund to help prevent environmental, life and socio-economic risks. In the UK, the AXA Research Fund supports over 60 projects and has committed to €100 million to be invested between 2013 and 2018.

Shout out your success 

Once you have made inroads with your CSR program, don’t forget to communicate your success to stakeholders and customers. This will help your business meet like-minded partners on future CSR initiatives, while also allowing your customers to connect with your brand values.

Ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, for example, widely communicates that it uses only fair trade ingredients. It also promotes the fact it has developed a dairy farm sustainability program to support farmers, the environment and the local community – creating a powerful brand story that allows consumers to connect positively with Ben & Jerry’s.

Meanwhile, Patagonia has released an online hub for its customers called the Footprint Chronicles that features information on the outdoor clothing company’s supply chain around the world. 

Implementing a CSR program can have a positive effect on your company’s brand loyalty strength, bottom line and employee engagement. When implementing a CSR program, ensure your company plays to its organizational strengths and gains employee input to create initiatives that reflect the overall business vision.