Ever heard of brand democracy or conscious capitalism?
It’s the idea that consumers elect brands as enablers of social change by giving them their business.
And the reason it’s a big deal – or that it even exists at all – is because consumers increasingly care about the kinds of brands they support. A full 64% are willing to buy or boycott based on values alone.
Whether it’s using all-natural products, giving back to your community, making environmentally sustainable choices or supporting employee wellness, social responsibility isn’t just aspirational philanthropy. It’s now a key part of business strategy that drives the bottom line, said our last Lessons from Leaders panel:
- Christine Jackson, National Education and Business Development Manager of Burt’s Bees Incorporated
- Sarab Hans, President of Hans Dairy
- John Coghill, President and CEO of Tradeforce Tech
- Marc Castel, Founder of Fiix Software
- James Marshall, President of Blue Valley Building Corporation
- Karen Lai, President of KPM Power Incorporated
Here’s what we learned.
Identify values before goals
Before you pledge to halve your greenhouse gas emissions, you need to think about your higher purpose. “Your values are what is your core, what really drives you,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be a compass for you to always go back to and judge the next decision you’re making.” Once you’ve identified those values, talk about them. A lot. To everyone.
It’s okay to start small
Even if you don’t have the funds available to support a full-blown program, small, conscious decisions can make a difference. Lai, for example, saved about $35,000 on her office furniture. “I said, find out where the wood is coming from. If they’re cutting down a tree, I don’t want it. If it’s used, I’ll take it. If it’s reclaimed, I’ll take it.”
Pay the rent (and your people) first
If you aren’t earning a profit, you won’t have the time or resources to make a difference, said Coghill. “Social responsibility when you’re starting is really about paying your employees and making sure that organization is sustainable,” he said. Then, “if you’re lucky enough to find (social) alignment, you take your corporate success and plow it back into social responsibility.”
Walk the walk
“Either change what’s on your wall or change what happens in your facility,” was the message Marshall heard when he worked at Magna. The posters on the walls talked about social responsibility, but when Toyota came through to assess their systems, they found their employees weren’t walking the walk. That required a change to the facility’s culture to make social responsibility an everyday part of work. “You see, you hear, you feel—all your senses receive the same message.”
Sustainability supports quality
In the food and beverage industry, consumers want nutritious products without spending a lot of money. But cutting costs often means cutting quality. “If you’re cutting corners on the way you’re using water, chemicals or energy, you might be affecting your business,” says Hans. Water and chemical recycling, along with investing in energy-saving lights, has helped them maintain quality while keeping costs low through reduced waste.
Bring it back to numbers
Need to convince a stakeholder about your corporate social responsibility program? Gather some data, break it down into numbers and make a business case for it. “By show of hands, who would like to have 10% more business?” asked Castel – that’s how much revenue his company was able to bring in as a direct result of their program at a cost of just 1% of their top line. “That seems like a really good ROI to me, and it changes the entire narrative.”