Demonstrating social responsibility is vitally important to consumers for a variety of reasons.
First, as environmental inefficiencies and global warming are given more spotlight, consumers are increasingly aware of the effects big business and innovation have on current and future generations. Second, there is an expectation that since businesses have a greater reach than individuals, they have a comparable responsibility to human and global interests. Third, consumers view companies with corporate sustainability policies as credible, quality-driven, and attractive. In fact, according to a 2011 study conducted by Cohn and Wolfe, 1 in 5 consumers would pay up to 10 percent higher on green products. Creating and abiding by sustainable policies isn’t just the right thing to do, there is also a compelling business case for enacting them. As small and mid-sized businesses brainstorm how to introduce sustainable practices into their corporate structures, it’s worth exploring how these campaigns can turn into branding opportunities.
Take inventory of your brand’s core values
Some of the benefits of setting a sustainable policy in place include: reducing corporate risk, attracting talent as a human relations tool, demonstrating of transparency to build trust with consumers, differentiating from competitors, and displaying genuine concern for the viability of future. When creating policies, keep these questions at the forefront:
• What passions drive your brand?
• What processes can your brand make more efficient?
• What do your customers care about?
• How can you demonstrate empathy for these cares?
• How do you want consumers to view your brand?
• How do you want your employees to view your brand?
• How can your brand carry out this policy socially?
• How is your brand uniquely positioned to carry it out?
• What value will your brand create as a result of this policy?
Look for internal ways to make processes more efficient and demonstrate concern for the environmental impact they make. While apparel company, Patagonia, uses a model that leverages sustainability as a collaboration tool, for example, you may find that ethical sourcing is more true to your brand values. The key point is that sustainability is as much about tangible benefits as it is about being strategic about with whom your brand conducts business. As a general rule, when brands seek out suppliers and partners with sustainable policies similar to their own, they keep them accountable and further embed the requirement of social responsibility within their corporate fabric.
Set the right tone with women
According to Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s a Matter of Sustainability, a 2011 study conducted by Catalyst and Harvard Business School, companies with more women in senior leadership tend to create and adopt more effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and at higher rates than organizations led by men. Also, previous research suggests that companies with aggressive CSR policies in place also financially outperform those with fewer executive women. It follows that brands looking to adopt sustainability policies ensure they’ve got senior-level women on board to adopt, champion, and help carry them out. The fact that, as author Bridget Brennan, author of Why She Buys points out, 85 percent of all Fortune 500 corporate officers are men is just counter-intuitive.
From a consumer perspective, women have tremendous influence over the global marketplace driving over 85 percent of consumer spending, which is worth more than $20 trillion in annual sales. These purchases include products and services targeted to women, men, and children. A study conducted by Fleishman Hillard and The Harrison Group found that 88 percent of women say they like brands that “allow me to do something good."
Communicate what you’re about
Getting the word out that your brand has adopted a sustainable policy is key to operational strategy. It isn’t enough to push the policy purely for a public relations boost. Consumers are savvy and they want to see that sustainability is truly embedded within your brand’s daily operations. If your brand is to communicate these offerings authentically, you must invest time into senior and lower-level management to ensure they communicate your brand’s views and include employees in the ground breaking. Then, use sustainability as a filter in your communications to consumers to let them know your brand’s commitment to environmental issues. Doing so will increase your brand’s overall value and thus create a favorable, lasting brand impression.