Next time you’re in a public space with a crowd of people, take a minute to really notice all their shoes. Chances are, you’ll see quite a few sporting TOMS, a colorful, canvas, slip-on shoe. TOMS is famous for donating one pair of shoes to developing countries for every pair of shoes purchased.
Despite their simple style, they certainly aren’t cheap at $48. Yet their growing popularity over the last few years points to a change in how people shop for products and services and how much they are willing to pay to support causes they care about.
Millennials in particular are becoming increasingly altruistic, and that altruism extends to their habits as consumers and employees. They are more inclined to shop and work at companies that have sustainable environmental and social initiatives in place — also known as corporate social responsibility (or CSR).
According to a 2015 Nielsen study, 75% of millennials say they are willing to pay extra for “sustainable products” from companies that practice CSR, while 66% of global customers of all ages said the same thing (up 11 percentage points from the year before!). In fact, a 2015 Cone Communications study found that nine out of ten millennials would switch brands to one that supports a cause they care about.
And consumers are not just interested in purchasing sustainable products. CSR is becoming a way for companies to attract top talent to their organization. A 2014 Nielsen study shows that of global customers, 67% would prefer to work for a socially and environmentally conscious company and would even take a pay cut to do so.
All these statistics boil down to one thing: CSR is more than just a “nice idea” or an afterthought. It is becoming a measure of success.
It is no longer enough to focus on revenue as the bottom line. Companies that practice “conscious capitalism” put equal importance on the social and environmental success of their company, in addition to their profitability. And these companies are thriving and enjoying profits, employee retention, employee happiness, and brand loyalty as positive effects of measuring what The Economist calls the triple bottom line: “profit, people and planet.”
Changing the world is a tall order. But you don’t have to be TOMS or a large corporation like Whole Foods to treat the earth and your employees with respect or engage in humanitarian causes while creating products and services you are proud to deliver. Here are 10 “good” ideas that you can do right now to make strides toward greater corporate social responsibility in your own company.
1. Create an environmentally and socially conscious values statement. This is the first step toward meeting your CSR goals. Make sure it is posted, shown to new and prospective employees, and reviewed frequently. Every action your company takes should be working toward this goal or mission in some way. I personally love JetBlue’s: “JetBlue’s mission is to inspire humanity — both in the air and on the ground. We are committed to giving back in meaningful ways in the communities we serve and to inspire others to do the same.” For another examples of what a socially conscious value statement looks like, check out ours below.
2. Hire socially and environmentally minded individuals to be a part of your team. Before you can practice CSR, make sure your team is composed of activists, volunteers, and passionate individuals who will want to have a stake in your values and mission. Create a committee of these socially minded individuals to plan charitable events, coordinate company-wide volunteer days, and give their input about the causes you choose to support as a company. Building a team that practices CSR will ensure that it will be ingrained in the culture of your company and synonymous with your brand.
3. Strive to reduce your environmental footprint. Create an office culture of sustainability by using environmentally responsible products, buying organic, fair trade, and non-GMO snacks, installing energy-efficient lighting, refusing to use bottled water, recycling those wasteful K Cups, and donating used equipment to local charities. Even large corporations like Nike are leading the way in this area by using recycled materials in 71% of their footwear. Hold a brainstorming session with employees to get more ideas of how to make the office more “green.”
4. Get out and volunteer together! Nexus has long celebrated Thanksgiving by shopping for, organizing, and delivering Thanksgiving baskets for Edmarc Hospice For Children. And though Thanksgiving and Christmas are the times we most often remember to volunteer, local nonprofits need passionate volunteers all year long. As an office, come up with a cause you care about and find time to all volunteer together — or allow employees a certain number of hours a month to volunteer for their own favorite causes.
5. Give client gifts that make an impact. Use local, women-owned, diversity-owned, and veteran-owned businesses. Not only will your client enjoy and remember gifts that feel local and personal, but you will be working toward a sustainable environment for diverse businesses in your community. (We like to use Food & Friends’ Slice of Life pies around Thanksgiving time!) You should also consider donating to charity on behalf of your partners and clients. Rather than receiving yet another mug or paperweight, your clients will appreciate that your gift helped make a difference in the world.
6. Replace office rewards with donations. While gift cards or prime parking spots are desirable prizes and rewards for office goals and competitions, donating to a charity of an employee’s choice can also inspire excitement around giving. Even a Fantasy Football league can make a difference when the prize is a donation to the winner’s favorite charity!
7. Hold a drive. Canned food, clothes, pet necessities, toys: nonprofits are always looking for donations. Communicate with local charities to see what they need and when they need it, and invite the entire office (or entire building) to participate. Perhaps the department with the most participation can get a prize (see #6 for prize ideas).
8. Donate a portion of your revenue to charity. You can do this in several ways. Create a product or service in honor of a charity, and donate the proceeds (or a portion) of those sales to that charity. Local brewery O'Connor Brewing Co. brewed a beer in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a portion of the sales go to the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Campaign. Or donate a portion of all your sales for an entire day, week, or month! Once a year, over 100 restaurants in Hampton Roads participate in Dining Out for Life, donating 25% of their profits to ACCESS AIDS Care for a day.
9. Invest in a cause you care about through Kiva. Kiva allows independent lenders to loan money to businesses in developing countries. The loans are paid back at a low interest rate, and can be invested in other ventures when they are returned. As a women-owned business, Nexus Direct invests in women struggling to start businesses everywhere from Central and South America to Africa to Central Asia. It’s a return on investment that really means something!
10. Treat employees well. The company’s bottom line should not come at the expense of its employees. Being socially conscious includes treating employees with respect, being reasonable about what employees are expected to do, and offering good pay and benefits. Stores like Costco and The Container Store are known for their amazing treatment of employees. They pay very competitive wages, promote volunteer work, encourage open communication and leadership, and, as a result, have low turnover rates and happy employees.
No matter what you choose to do, do it from the heart — and that shouldn’t be hard if you are standing behind a cause you care about. If you’re practicing CSR just to improve profitability or just to impress millennials, you will fail. As much as they value sustainability, millennials also value authenticity and transparency — and they are experts at picking out phoniness.
Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight. But when you build a team and an office culture based around respecting the earth and respecting people, you will find that you have a return on your investment that will last longer than one fiscal year.