Corporate Social Responsibility: The New Normal

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is more than just an “add on” for businesses wanting to improve their brand image. In fact, in our experience, it’s becoming more deeply embedded as a normal way of doing business for a large number of businesses today. Even better, recent research conducted by the Carroll School of Management Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College supports that. Their study, Profile of the Practice 2013, is based on a survey of 231 companies that provided data on their corporate citizenship strategies, operational structures and business practices, and explores how the environmental, social and governance dimensions of a business are being managed, as well as how they have evolved since the last report in 2010. The results make for interesting reading. Here are just a few of their findings: Some 60% of companies now have a CSR executive, a 74% increase on 2010. Almost a third of these CSR executives are within one level of the CEO. Nearly 100% of the companies surveyed now have a CSR budget compared to 81% in the last report. The chief executive is generally more involved in developing CSR strategy, setting goals and communicating corporate citizenship issues than reported in both 2008 and 2010. Even more exciting, more than a quarter of businesses surveyed indicated that their CEO is “highly involved” in evaluation of their company citizenship program. More than 70% of companies included “enhanced reputation” among the top three business goals that they are trying to achieve with their CSR program. There is some evidence that this move to adopt a more socially responsible approach by business may be more than just window dressing. A study by researchers from Clark University suggests that companies that introduce a sustainability strategy throughout their supply chain generally see a boost to their financial performance over the longer term. The study of 411 companies found that those that introduced social and environmental factors into a sustainable supply chain management system generally saw a marked upgrade in their fiscal returns. It’s also important to note that doing the job half-heartedly may not reap any financial rewards. The research found that companies that implemented just an environmental strategy, without including an element of social responsibility, found that the installation costs could outweigh any financial gains that they made. As an organization that puts quality and social responsibility at the forefront of...

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Greenwashing: Are You a Co-Conspirator?

Marketers bombard us with claims every day: “Bigger,” “better,” and of course, “cheaper.” But have you also heard “greener?” What about “greenwashing?” Have you heard of that term? Greenwashing is marketing-speak for product descriptions that are deceptively used to promote that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies are environmentally friendly. What about you? Is there a chance you might be a “greenwash” co-conspirator in your own marketing efforts? Do you find yourself citing product qualities like, eco-, organic, environmentally friendly, or even just “green,” when you’re considering them? Maybe some of the products mentioned here might make you rethink that. Barbie BCause You may have heard of Barbie “BCause”, marketed by Mattel as a limited-edition eco-friendly collection of accessories for the doll. The brand campaign developed claimed to utilize leftover trimmings and fabric was environmentally friendly. Sounds great, right? Well, the only people who thought it was a good idea was the team at Mattel and the agency that dreamed up the campaign. Environmental groups panned the campaign, and for good reason. Both the dolls and the accessories created as part of this line were made in China, primarily of petroleum products, and (shocker) very little reused product actually made it into the consumer offering. As a result, Mattel was painted harshly with the same negative publicity surrounding greenwashing missteps by marketers and brands, includingmassive fails like the “Eco-Hummer,” Sherwin-Williams covering the earth with lead paint, and McDonald’s messaging by changing its logo color to green in Europe. Not-So-Simple Green Do you have any Simple Green in your kitchen cabinets? Marketed as a product that was “green before green was cool,” there’s more to that claim than meets the eye. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the “all purpose cleaner” claims that if ingested, Simple Green is “essentially non-toxic.” A little closer read of the MSDS reveals that while Simple Green is 78 percent water, the very next ingredient listed is 2-Butoxyethanol, which both California and Canada list as toxic. Even better, 2-Butoxyethanol is known to cause birth defects, fertility issues, nose and eye irritation, headaches and vomiting. In addition, it can be absorbed through the skin, so using rubber gloves with this “green before green was cool” product is a pretty good idea. Coke is being told to revise their marketing of the product, including the use of the word “plant,” excessive green colors, and a circular-arrow logo inspired by the...

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New Consumer Index Tracks Socially Conscious Spending

As consumers become more socially conscious and committed to safety, responsibility and sustainability, it only makes sense to track their investment in safe, compliant and responsible companies. As revealed in the State Of Social Responsibility Survey, consumers are becoming more serious about using their spending power to drive positive change. Case in point? Nearly 30 percent of consumers said that they plan to increase their amount of purchases from socially responsible companies in 2013. Compare that to 18 percent of customers who reported buying more from socially conscious companies in 2012. The study also created a baseline score, the Conscious Consumer Spending Index (#CCSIndex), which can be used to identify future trends. The #CCSIndex score is calculated by evaluating the importance consumers place on purchasing from socially responsible companies, actions taken to support such products and services, and future intent to increase the amount they spend with responsible organizations. Although the initial score of 65 out of 100 doesn’t have much meaning on its own, it does provide a benchmark with which to measure future progress. An increasing amount of research speaks to the relatively rapid growth of the socially conscious consumer. Here are some additional findings from Good.Must.Grow’s survey: A majority of respondents reported being ‘green’, reducing consumption, supporting non-profits and buying responsibly as being very or somewhat important. When asked about charitable giving, 21% of consumers said they gave more to charities in 2012 when compared to the previous year. Female consumers in the 25-34 age group were much more likely to be engaged in socially responsible shopping than males ages 45 to 54. C’mon, guys—step up to the plate! Despite an increase in socially responsible shopping, consumers still love a good deal. More than 50% of respondents expressed a preference for a ‘Buy One, Get One’ as opposed to a paltry 15% for a ‘Buy One, Give One’ deal. Individuals see themselves as playing a critical role in driving positive change. Local and federal government ranked last in this area. Consumers rate how a company treats its employees and how its operations impact the environment most highly when gauging social responsibility. Consumers have a healthy skepticism about companies’ ‘social’ claims and may not always take them at face value. The lesson there? Don’t make empty promises—fulfill the claims you deliver and you’ll be more likely to win customer trust and loyalty. We’re excited for next year’s...

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Apple Unveils Third-Party Charger Trade-In Program

Apple Unveils Third-Party Charger Trade-In Program

After three incidents involving shocks from faulty iPhone chargers, including one fatal electrocution, Apple has announced a trade-in program for third-party charging devices. As part of the program, which kicks off on August 16, users can return third-party iPhone, iPad and iPod USB power adapters to Apple stores or authorized service providers. Customers can then buy Apple-made replacement chargers at a reduced cost—around $10, or the approximate equivalent in local currency. The USB Power Adapter Takeback Program will be valid in the U.S., China, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The program was launched in the wake of three recent incidents, all involving faulty iPhone chargers. A 23-year-old woman was fatally electrocuted and a 30-year-old man was hospitalized, both in China. In late July, an Australian woman was hospitalized with shock injuries. “Customer safety is a top priority at Apple,” according to the company. “That’s why all of our products—including USB power adapters for iPhone, iPad and iPod—undergo rigorous testing for safety and reliability and are designed to meet government safety standards around the world.” Apple has also published information about how to recognize USB power adapters that are made by the company. Each adapter, for example, comes with a specific certification label that ranges in appearance depending on the model, as pictured below: Crisis management is never easy, especially when you’re dealing with customers who have been injured and killed as a result (whether directly or indirectly) of your product. Yet given the fact that third-party chargers are widely available, it’s smart of Apple to get out in front of the issue and do what they can to prevent similar tragedies. What’s your take on Apple’s trade-in program? Do you think they could have taken additional steps to help protect their customers, despite the involvement of third-party products? Image: kevin dooley via Compfight...

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Nielsen Defines The Global Socially Conscious Consumer

Nielsen Defines The Global Socially Conscious Consumer

As safety, responsibility and sustainability become increasingly important to consumers and businesses alike, a new type of customer has emerged: the socially conscious consumer. And as a result, it’s critical for companies to not only adopt safe, responsible and sustainable practices—it’s also vital that they share that information with this particular target audience. To help with those marketing efforts, a Nielsen report defines the global, socially conscious consumer using data gathered from more than 28,000 online respondents from 56 countries around the world. Who Is The Socially Conscious Consumer? Nielsen’s survey results show three key findings about the socially conscious consumer: 63% are under the age of 40. 66% think companies should support the environment. These consumers are wiling to pay more for socially responsible products and services. What Matters To The Socially Conscious Consumer Understanding today’s socially conscious consumer isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. It’s also important to understand what sort of causes these consumers are particularly likely to support, valuable data that can help you identify your company’s priorities and what sort of marketing message you create to help disseminate that information. Nielsen’s research identified a number of specific causes (as pictured below), with the following issues at the top of the list: Ensure environmental sustainability (66%) Improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training and education (56%) Eradicate poverty and extreme hunger (53%) Provide relief following natural disasters (52%) Support small business and entrepreneurship (50%) Increase access to technology (50%) Nielsen’s survey not only contains valuable marketing data about an important audience segment—it also underscores the larger importance of identifying and implementing sustainable, responsible and socially compliant business practices. Consumers are ready to support these priorities not just with brand advocacy, but also with their wallets—and in today’s marketplace, it no longer makes sense to ignore safety and responsibility at the expense of your company’s reputation and bottom line. Were you surprised by any of Nielsen’s findings? What specific causes do you think companies should support? Image: shimelle via Compfight...

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Safety After Bangladesh: A Chat with Andrea Engel of AlphaBroder

Safety After Bangladesh: A Chat with Andrea Engel of AlphaBroder

The devastating garment factory collapse in Bangladesh has not only prompted widespread scrutiny of the largely deplorable working conditions among the country’s garment industry facilities, but also new regulations and policies designed to protect workers and prevent a similar catastrophe. Take, for example, the U.S. government’s decision to suspend its preferential trade agreement for Bangladesh, which the Wall Street Journal’s William Mauldin calls “a largely symbolic move to punish the country for poor labor practices.” That news in particular sparked customer questions about the decision and what it means for companies, especially those in the promotional products industry. We recently sat down with Andrea Engel, Vice President of Portfolio and Supplier Management for QCA founding member AlphaBroder. to get her thoughts on what sort of reaction they’ve heard from their customers, as well as the critical importance of product safety and tools like QCA Accreditation that make safety, responsibility and compliance a more integral part of a company’s policies and processes. What sort of questions have you heard from your customers in response to the Bangladesh tragedy? We really didn’t start to hear from our customers until the President announced that they were suspending the trade privileges to Bangladesh. To the average layperson, unless you really understand how the trade rules between countries work and importing and exporting, the news would make you think that nothing can be purchased from Bangladesh. We understand that the special privileges are one small nuance to the trade agreements that the U.S. has not only with Bangladesh, but also with many countries. Some of the inquiries were generated by a concern about lack of product availability, but we also heard from some customers who were concerned about brand reputation, too. A lot of our customers are also large specialty companies, so they’re dealing with Fortune 500 companies by providing their corporate outfitting and employee apparel. There’s consideration for possible backlash if a Fortune 500 company were discovered to have apparel tied to Bangladesh. What’s important to note is that the suspension of the preferential trade agreement doesn’t impact the apparel industry. There were 5 or 6 product types that the decision affected. The overall purpose was really to put pressure on Bangladesh, because that would be the first place that the U.S. government would look in terms of ‘what are we allowing in our country that’s not generating any revenue?’ And, of course,...

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