Corporate Social Responsibility

Previously, Jennifer Kiwala highlighted the benefits of integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) into the workplace culture. She outlined five key steps to ensure program success.

  1. Overview of corporate social responsibility (Oct ‘07)
  2. Create a CSR policy (Nov/Dec ‘07)
  3. Make the structure flexible (Jan/Feb ‘08)
  4. Focus on long-term projects (March/Apr ‘08)
  5. Communicate (May ‘08)
  6. Give employees time off (June/July ‘08)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a strategic corporate initiative that has been receiving an increased amount of attention, provides more benefits to an organization than simply reducing costs by recycling and giving back. Research has shown that actively participating in CSR efforts positively affect an employee’s personal outlook of the future, satisfaction with their job and confidence in the company’s future.

The structure is the business “road map” of your corporate social responsibility CSR direction. If structured successfully, it will assure stakeholders of the means of proceeding, areas of priority, and next steps. It is crucial that this mapping is carried out in a thorough and logical manner, otherwise you and your strategy could be stuck on the paved shoulder of the business advancement highway.

The key steps in developing a successful structure are:

  1. Include many different employees and resources
  2. Strive for a flexible strategy that can grow with your business
  3. Create a level of interaction where every employee is motivated to contribute to the formation of your CSR program.

A Little Help From Employees

Your CSR strategy requires the input and backing of your employees as they are an excellent source of information and innovation. By valuing your employees’ input, you will contribute positively to their levels of engagement, which will in turn make them more valuable contributors on your team.

Create a diverse, multi-level, multi-departmental team to spearhead the formation of your CSR strategy. Aim to recruit this in-house committee by the means that works best in your organization. Use your in-house communication network, or establish a new one. Place a “want ad” in your staff newsletter, send out a company-wide email or include a note in payslips communicating your intention and requesting volunteers. Attend various team meetings to promote the development of the group. Suggestion boxes, elevator posters or notices on relevant boards could also be effective means of reaching all your employees.

“Make sure you try and include as many individuals as possible in the development of your CSR strategy—especially from human resources, legal, administration and finance. Accumulating their knowledge, expertise, and support early on could be cruc­ial to the success of your program implementation,” says Kathrin Bohr, Vice-President and Managing Director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), a pioneering, business-led, non-profit CSR consultancy.

Ms. Bohr warns, “Be wary of having your group consist entirely of CSR enthusiasts–invite a couple of nay-sayers to get a balanced perspective. This could help you work out issues which may arise in the future that perhaps you had not considered.”


The first task that your CSR team should undertake is a company-wide assessment identifying existing CSR practices, interests, synergies, opportunities, pressures, and possible business conflicts. Ms. Bohr comments, “through this assessment, the strengths and weaknesses of the current state of the company can be identified, a flexible structure created, and key stakeholders engaged early on.”

A structure that is flexible is critical to ensure that your CSR team’s strategy fits the changing face of business and workplace culture. Such an adaptable approach will further demonstrate that your business is a dynamic leader that can meet current customer demands and trends.

Don’t be afraid to publish revisions and distribute them to relevant parties. This will demonstrate your desire to develop, thereby communicating that your policies are organic and transparent. It is yet another opportunity to further engage employees in the process and give them a sense of ownership over the direction of the business.

Have an Open Door

Communicate to everyone on the CSR team to have an open-door policy, which is a critical component to keeping the structure flexible and relevant. Institute various means for your staff to make suggestions. Some of the most outstanding suggestions will be from employees who are not direct decision-makers. They will suggest ideas like a Green Champions group, donating 200 luxury goods baskets at Christmas to the elderly, and knitting clothes for hospitalized premature babies.

Encourage questions and reply to all of them, communicating your responses broadly, as it is likely that there are others who would like to know the answer. It is crucial to make use of your communication network to update staff on initiatives and progress made to date.

The Challenges and Issues

Kathrin Bohr advises, “The obstacles that we normally come across when providing CSR advisory services are standard business issues–who is going to manage it, fund it or carry the flame after the CSR program is launched. This generally occurs when the approach is not strategic or employees, senior management, and CEOs are not on board from the beginning.

To be successful, CSR shouldn’t only be viewed as “random acts of kindness.” Companies are now looking at CSR more strategically and pulling together these acts into programs and initiatives with long-term impact that make business sense. A durable, yet adaptable strategy needs to support the structure of the program. With good strategic planning and integration of CSR into the culture, businesses will reap the many benefits, including improving their bottom line.”

One Company With a CSR Policy
Name of Company: Ford Motor Company
Type of industry: Manufacturer of transportation

Ford Motors Company manufactures and distributes vehicles with an operations network that branches out into over 60 countries, 107 sites, 2,000 suppliers and 7,500 supplier manufacturing sites. So implementing a sustainability agenda with a focus on human rights and the environment was no easy undertaking.

The organization consulted their stakeholders, recognized the public’s changing expectations, and assessed their industry pressures. This lengthy process of assessing their corporate responsibility included input from their direct and indirect customers. As a whole, the results “have been outstanding,” according to John Viera, the Director of Sustainable Business Strategies.

They culminated the results in the form of their Code of Basic Working Conditions, a document that is sought out as an industry model. It not only outlines their legal requirements, but proudly announces that “we shall consider indigenous peoples amongst our primary stakeholders in all projects we consider undertaking.

We will openly and honestly engage all recognized members of our stakeholder community… conduct business in an environmentally-friendly and responsible manner… seek to reduce and minimize the environmental impact of all of our operations… become an environmentally restorative and truly sustainable company in the long term.”

For environmentally concerned customers, Ford offers greener vehicle alternatives such as the Ford Hybrid Escape, as well as an array of fuel-efficient vehicles. They have furthered their environmental responsibilities at their Canadian operations by currently installing an eco-friendly technology that will convert the emissions from the paint fumes, used in the assembling process, into electricity to help power the plant.

A program they refer to as ‘Fumes-to-Fuel.’ This and other worldwide environmental initiatives have enabled Ford to successfully reduce their global energy use by 27% and CO2 emission products by 31%.

They continue to strengthen their CSR program, by allowing employees up to 16 paid hours a year to offer their voluntary services. The many projects take the form of conservation work, environmental, youth, and homeless initiatives.

During their second annual Ford Global Week of Caring, the Ford of Canada Headquarters leadership challenged staff to replenish local food banks shelves by filling up the back of one Ford Edge each day for seven days –not only did they accomplish this goal but, with the help of the Oakville Assembly Complex employees, exceeded it and filled 30.

“Despite the difficult challenges we face today, the business case for community service is stronger than ever,” said Ford Motor Company President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally. “Volunteering helps us strengthen our corporate brand, build high-performance teams and attract employees, customers and investors. It is the right thing to do, for ourselves, our communities and our business.”

Jennifer Kiwala returned to Canada after working in Britain as a CSR Executive.

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