Talking about treating society as a stakeholder is easy, but how can a business make this a reality? It’s an interesting question – one at the heart of the recent “Social Impact” event hosted by The Crowd. The conversation, organized as a roundtable discussion, was devoted to the practical steps organizations can take to factor society into mainstream business decisions. It cuts to the heart of what a post-corporate social responsibility (CSR) world looks like.
SABMiller mentioned: “Our business grows when our suppliers, retailers, farmers and customers grow.” What the company does is try to understand the business objectives of its stakeholders and integrate social elements into their value proposition. So, if the goal of smaller customers is to be more successful businessmen, SABMiller may offer training on accounting and financial literacy, alongside community relations and other socially oriented training.
Another great illustration is Sky Academy: The approach it takes is not to talk about sustainability, but about young people, skills and confidence. Investment in Sky Academy makes a difference to customers and how they feel about the brand. The CSR team uses metrics to measure the percentage of shifts in skills participants have and how much intention to purchase they have as a result. The human story element has also been successful in generating senior management participation.
BT also finds metrics paramount to their work: “Transparency is the new green.” Finally GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) accepts that doing business requires and investment in society and infrastructure in order to sell products. In Africa, for example, GSK supports stakeholders in order to create mechanisms for customers to access and afford life-saving medicine. The focus is not on donations, but blended models and strategic partnerships.
In summary, societal impact needs to be presented in business terms. Sustainability strategies have been separate from the core business for so long and they now need to be integrated into strategic plans. Decision makers must consider how social initiatives can contribute to the bottom and top line, building brand and shareholder value, as well as other qualitative value drivers. It is not only about doing the right thing, it is about understanding what the business is looking to achieve and making sustainability relevant to the corporate agenda.
Lars Rebien Sørensen, CEO of Novo Nordisk, quite rightly said, “If you look at your business for long enough in time perspective, then social and societal issues become financial issues.”
by Eloise Lebrun, Sustainability Sales Team