Corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility, sustainability… Even among sustainability professionals, there is little agreement on the name, let alone the definition. Perhaps a simpler approach then is to discuss what is does.
Corporate responsibility efforts minimize an organization’s negative environmental impact and optimize its positive social and economic impacts. A strategic approach to CR means assessing an organization’s operations to identify opportunities for improvements in environmental, social, and financial results (the triple bottom line) and, significantly, building a program to communicate those results whether good or not so good.
- Environmental sustainability initiatives focus on resource inputs and waste outputs, including energy, supplies, water, raw materials, packaging, life-cycle impact, etc. A commitment to decreasing an organization’s carbon footprint, for example, saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Such initiatives increase efficiency and lower costs.
- Social sustainability encompasses issues such as fair trade, living wages, safe and healthy working conditions, employee wellness, gender equity, and community engagement.
- Economic (financial) sustainability has to do with the organization’s long-term financial success, as well as the economic impact it has in the larger community including, for example, through socially responsible investing.
Ideally, organizations are addressing all three aspects in as many of their activities as possible. Outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia provides an excellent model, articulated perfectly in their mission statement: “Make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Their practice since 1985 of contributing 1% of sales to protect undomesticated lands and waters (where customers put their Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear to use!) led to the creation of the non-profit corporation 1% for the Planet to encourage other businesses to do the same.
And Patagonia is a leader in communicating the results of their initiatives, including results that fall short of their desired goals. This degree of transparency is essential to any genuine corporate responsibility effort.
Generation Strategy works with organizations to define and execute sustainability strategies that align with and support the overall business strategy to improve environmental, social and financial results. We help our clients to build trust among stakeholders by communicating activities and results through marketing, PR, and formalized reporting.
Generation Strategy LLC founder Kathryne Auerback is a sustainability strategy, corporate responsibility, PR and marketing executive with 20 years of experience across a variety of sectors. She works with organizations to reduce costs, manage risks and build value through sustainability training, assessment, planning and communication. Her innovative efforts have been recognized by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the American Advertising Federation, and the Marketing Communications Agency Network.