CSR Career Advice: Do You Really Know Your Consumers' CSR Priorities?

A main piece of career advice for aspiring and established Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals has always been to clearly communicate the social and environmental value they create to their internal and external constituents.  Key elements to communicate are based on two main types of CSR initiatives.  First, some CSR initiatives focus on positive social impact, or how the company positively contributes to the communities it operates in.  Second, some CSR initiatives are increasingly been focusing on environmental impact.  Such initiatives have revolved around what the company is doing (a) to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, (b) to use renewable or recycled materials in its manufacturing process, and (c) to reduce waste.

Clear communication of CSR initiatives is key to achieve a number of goals.  Clearly communicating CSR results increases a company's brand equity.  This contributes to acquire and retain top talent as employees, as well as build consumer loyalty.   Beyond consumer loyalty, CSR professionals also know that CSR is key to secure purchases from the growing proportion of new consumers that take CSR initiatives into consideration when making purchasing decisions.

In sum, CSR professionals know that clear communication is important to make CSR a key component of their company's sustainability.  However, very few CSR professionals know which types of CSR initiatives will (or not) have the most impact on their internal constituents and their consumers.  Would it be better to make a bigger donation to a partner non-profit?  Would it be more powerful to reduce their manufacturing plants' GHG emissions or increase the proportion of recycled materials into their product manufacturing process?  As a CSR professional, you need access to resources and career advice that help you decide which CSR initiatives will give you the biggest bang for your CSR buck.  The Sustainability Initiative 2009 published earlier this week by SLM Insights (a sub-division of Sustainable Life Media) and Zumer.com fills this gap.  This study is extremely valuable for two reasons.

First, this study analyzes 6,000 CSR initiatives using a grading system based on 38 data points across 4 categories such as environmental initiatives (e.g. reduction in GHG emissions), social responsibility activities (e.g. employee benefits), product responsibility activities (e.g. marketing ethics), and corporate citizenship initiatives (e.g. CEO compensation).  These 6,000 CSR initiatives were gathered from the CSR reports published by 100 global companies that operated across 10 industries.  Based on the SLM Insights/Zumer.com analysis, the companies that implemented the strongest CSR initiatives by industry were Quantas (airlines), Anheuser Bush (alcoholic beverages), Daimler (automotive), The Gap (clothing), Sony (consumer electronics), Nestlé (diversified foods manufacturers), Timberland (footwear), Royal Dutch Shell (oil and gas), Weyerhaeuser (paper products), and Procter & Gamble (personal household products).  The main piece of CSR career advice here is to use the SLM Insights/Zumer.com report to best understand which CSR initiatives have worked best in your industry.  Use these CSR initiatives as a benchmark or a best practice for you to use in your current traditional job or your CSR job.  As the SLM Insights/Zumer.com study has already done the analysis for you, you can simply use their methodology and metrics to compute the projected results that specific CSR initiatives used by competitors would generate if implemented in your company.

The second reason to read the SLM Insights/Zumer.com report is that is documents the perceived value of these CSR intiatives based on the data gathered through 1,700 surveyed consumers.  The analysis is, to my knowledge, the first one to analyze whether the types of CSR initiatives that consumers pay attention to are similar or different depending on which industry the company operates in.  The SLM Insights/Zumer.com report clearly shows that consumers do pay attention to different types of CSR initiatives for different industries.  For example, the study indicated that reduction of GHG emissions was more important to consumers for companies that produce personal household goods than for companies in the consumer electronics industry.  For consumer electronics companies, consumers were most concerned with recycled materials used in the product manufacturing process than they were interested in the level of consumer electronics manufacturers' GHG emissions reduction initiatives.  Therefore, based on these results, an important piece of career advice for you as a CSR professional is to implement CSR initiatives that are actually important for consumers and other constituents in your own industry.  Knowing this can help you get buy-in from internal constituents by demonstrating how specific CSR initiatives are important to keep current consumers and attract new consumers to increase your company's market share.

Overall, the SLM Insights/Zumer.com CSR Initiative Report is a great resource for aspiring and established CSR professionals.  It provides valuable insights and CSR career advice on (a) the types of CSR initiatives big companies across industries are currently investing in and (b) how much these initiatives are valued (or not) by their current and future consumers.

What other reports have been useful to you?  What other pieces of CSR career advice or questions related to CSR careers do you have?  I look forward to reading your comments and questions!

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