By Paula Cortes
CSR has been controversial because of how corporations have failed with their green logos. An example is Terra Cycle, a recycling company whose tagline is “Eliminating the Idea of Waste”. For example, the company makes plastic lumber products out of single-use coffee pods. But many environmentalists are unconvinced: “if TerraCycle really wanted to eliminate waste, it would suggest consumers make coffee the old fashioned way” (1.)
Many brands are using corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a communication strategy to improve their corporate image; consumers, however, are often overwhelmed by these more or less well-founded CSR claims and can have trouble identifying what distinguishes a truly responsible firm. This confusion has promoted ‘greenwashing’ practices and may make CSR initiatives less effective (2), despite their rise as a prominent international interest. It has also become a research priority in public relations and has been considered as one of the key aspects of that field for decades (3).
In a TED talk video Dr. Mc Elhaney proposes the use of her four core values when consultants are working for a company doing CSR: “Authentic, Bold, Connected and (Damn) Useful” are the strategies for better CSR programs according to her. In the talk she points out Authenticity as an initiative that represent economic benefits because being the author of one’s own innovation shows a higher self-awareness and engagement from the shareholders. Additionally, it will improve the consumer’s perception. To put this into perspective the CSR of every company should demonstrate a realistic concern for the implication of their processes. For example a company in the mining sector after achieving EIA approval should be authentic in its CSR design, including realistic needs of the community on its guidelines, for example training local people to be employed by the mining enterprise, creating better access to basic resources as water and aliments and ensuring healthy labor conditions in order to demonstrate that the company understands the particular needs of the community where the mine is located.
Dr. Mac Elhaney focuses on the importance of being authentic and, despite the fact that she does not rationalise the other core values mentioned before, I would like to take into consideration the importance of being “Connected”. Firms involved in repeated interactions with stakeholders that are based on trust and cooperation have an incentive to be honest and ethical. They have demonstrated that this behaviour is beneficial to the company; therefore, it is important to generate permanent bonds between people as we care better the ones that we know (5). Being connected includes having effective communication. Informing the public about the company management of environmental challenges and the preventive and corrective actions to environmental threats brings trust and a better perception from the public. In the example of noise annoyance, a refinery that Irving Oil developed a reducing noise program which has been decreasing noise in the neighbourhood around the refinery, minimizing the use of flaring as well as installing a range of noise silencer technologies. (7) This demonstrates that the company is connected enough to hear and be aware of community needs and to respond to improve people’s quality of life.
CSR is a challenging process that requires a comprehensive approach on the part of the people who are creating the strategy. In this article I briefly explored two of the core values mentioned for the Dr Mc Elhaney; however, it is important to take into consideration that all companies have different missions and visions, which makes them unique. Authenticity might be sometimes hard to achieve as it is necessary to have a budget to implement new practices, if the company has many standardized processes probably would prefer to maintain its traditional ways. To be able to be authentic requires engagement from the workers, open communication and a committed disposition of the shareholders.
If there is an opportunity to modify and improve a process in a company, it should be easy to communicate to the main chair about it. When companies have quality systems they have an advantage in this process as these protocols have continuous improvement guidelines. Social responsibility requires a real engagement to achieve all the company goals expressed in a mission and vision. It should exist as a participatory mechanism for any person to take part of it and cooperate in the enhancement of the different processes. With real consistency and authenticity communicated, the company’s relations with consumers will be smoother because the public will better trust a company that shows that what they promote agrees with what they do, and then CSR wouldn’t look like just another greenwashing initiative.
(2) Parguel, B. Benoît-Moreau, F.Larceneux F. 2011. How Sustainability Ratings Might Deter ‘Greenwashing’: A Closer Look at Ethical Corporate Communication.August 2011, Volume 102, Issue 1, pp 15-28.Journal of Business Ethics
(3) 2007. Capriottia, P. Moreno, A. 2007.bCorporate citizenship and public relations: The importance and interactivity of social responsibility issues on corporate websitesPublic Relations Review Volume 33, Issue 1, March 2007, Pages 84–91
(4) Arenas,D Lozano, M & Albareda L.2009. he Role of NGOs in CSR: Mutual Perceptions Among Stakeholders Journal of Business EthicsAugust Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 175-197Date: 05 Aug 2009.
(5) McWilliams A, Donald S.Wright, P 2006. Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategic Implications.Journal of Management Studies Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 1–18, January 2006.
(6) Reinhardt, F. 1998. ‘Environmental product differentiation. California Management Review, 40, Summer, 43–73. Web of Science® Times