By Melissa Campeau
There is little question that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives can be good for a company’s culture. But the benefits of sustainability initiatives don’t have to end there. A growing number of companies are recognizing that collaborative, grassroots-based CSR programs can provide a tremendous amount of personal and professional satisfaction for employees. And when an organization uses an inclusive approach to developing and executing sustainability plans, the result can be greater program success and an even bigger win for the community.
Bringing meaning to work Indeed, “engaging employees is a key part of the sustainability and CSR journey,” says Andrea Baldwin, vice-president, member experience, Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR). “In some of our member companies, employees are the No. 1 audience for CSR efforts and reports, and CSR corporate initiatives have come about due to employee suggestions and grassroots action.”
Today’s employees are often looking for ways to reach out and be part of something bigger than themselves. “People need meaning from their work beyond simply solving business problems,” says Dave Robitaille, director, corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, IBM Canada Ltd. HR has an opportunity to tap into this desire and provide a deeper level of satisfaction for staff. “Allowing and incenting employees to devote some of their creative energy and talents in service to communities around them delivers on this promise of bringing meaning to work for many employees,” says Robitaille.
This can have professional rewards, too. “This type of service sparks entrepreneurial ingenuity,” which leads to “economic prosperity and social problem solving,” says Robitaille. “Structured and high quality community service assignments — especially team assignments — can be the most effective form of employee training and capacity building.”
At Seventh Generation, the company has seen significant corporate benefits as a result of encouraging employee creativity. “We have a program that provides forgivable loans (meaning repayment of the loan will not be required if the borrower meets certain criteria)—up to $5,000 per employee per year—that can be used towards the purchase of high efficiency automobiles, including hybrids, as well as to support energy efficiency in their homes,” explains Chris Miller, manager of corporate consciousness, Seventh Generation. “During the past five years, the program has led to an almost 20 per cent reduction in our employees’ combined carbon footprint,” he says.
“But the real ROI for the company is in helping our community members think differently about energy use, which, in turn, has led to employees thinking creatively about energy use at work,” says Miller. As a result, Seventh Generation has seen its carbon footprint per unit of sales decline by 49 per cent over five years.
Attracting top talent
Successful CSR initiatives may have a positive impact on a company’s ability to recruit the best and brightest, too. “The war for talent will intensify in tomorrow’s creative economy,” says Tom Ewart, managing director, Network for Business Sustainability. “Innovation will be required for firms to survive, and bright, engaged employees will help firms innovate.
For tomorrow’s leaders, sustainability is not an option, but an imperative,” he says.
Successful CSR requires a team
Baldwin points out that recent research conducted by CBSR and Hewitt Associates confirmed the link between an engaged employee base and social and environmental performance. “Internal collaboration is critical to change,” says Baldwin. “All parts of the business must be engaged in efforts to go green—the CSR or sustainability team can’t do it alone.”
Barbara Turley-McIntyre, director, sustainability and corporate citizenship, The Co-operators Group Limited, agrees. “The reality today is that if you don’t do a good job engaging your employees, you won’t be successful in this area.”
Examples of successful collaborative CSR initiatives can be seen at many leading organizations. “A few years ago,” says Turley-McIntyre, “The Co-operators embarked on formalizing a companywide sustainability strategy. “We decided to establish a sustainability vision, policy and strategy, but wanted to engage staff in its development,” Turley- McIntyre explains. “Our CEO went across the country to 10 locations and held focus group sessions, which included staff from data entry processors to senior executives, collecting input and feedback about what sustainability meant to them personally and in their professional roles.”
In IBM’s case, Robitaille says the initial challenge was in transforming a large organization from being a global company to being integrated across the world as a global community. “So, in 2005 we invited all 320,000 of our employees to come together in an online discussion called ‘values jam’ to guide where we would go as an organization,” he says. IBM followed this in 2007 with Innovation Jam, when the company invited employees (400,000 at the time) as well as clients, business partners and community stakeholders to join in another online forum to discuss the top issues facing the world’s future, and to begin to discuss possible solutions. “Much of our current solution portfolio [of CSR initiatives] is a direct result of asking our stakeholders what they wanted IBM to focus on, and in fact what they wanted IBM to become to the world,” says Robitaille.
Turning collaborative visions into tangible results At Co-operators, the organization developed an e-learning course for staff members, built on the subject of sustainability. “Staff can learn online at their own pace and take a course on issues that relate sustainability to both the business and the planet at large,” says Turley-McIntyre. “It’s been a huge success.”
“We’ve also partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation,” she says. “Together we created a social media environment on our company’s intranet for sharing ideas and information about four specific sustainability issues—transportation, food, energy and water.”
Keep it real
There is no shortcut to success when it comes to CSR initiatives, say the experts. “For those companies engaging in CSR initiatives as a marketing tactic—that’s not what sustainability is about,” says Turley-McIntyre. For the most part, though, she believes the imposters will not survive. “I think people will call disingenuous companies out—in a public and influential way.”
Instead, sustainability success needs to come from changes to the core of corporate culture. And it may follow that in the years ahead, CSR programs and values need to be part of corporate culture for a business to succeed at all. “In my opinion, the idea of corporate citizenship is just hitting its stride,” says Turley-McIntyre. “In 10 years, this will just be how we do business. Companies who don’t get on board will be left behind.”
Melissa Campeau is a Toronto-based freelance writer.
|Filed under: Web Extras by Lyle|