Corporate Social Responsibility – Marketing Hype or Real Change?

October 27, 2011 by  Howard Chang

My Communications Director Nicole Pointon and I are fresh from attending the CBSR Summit in Toronto. The highlight was the keynote address by the illustrious Stephen Lewis. Mr. Lewis is probably best known as the UN Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS but he is also well loved by old hippies like me for being the provincial NDP leader for many years. His brilliant speech was quite humbling as it drew clear lines that showed how far Canada has fallen behind in our global reputation for social and environmental responsibility.

Many point to Copenhagen and the Harper Government’s steadfast refusal to align with many other developed countries to ratify an accord that would bind us to carbon limits. But that is just the marquee event in what many feel is a steady downward spiral of Canada’s reputation. Unfortunately the government is not solely to blame. Many of our Canadian corporations, primarily in the extraction industries like mining, oil and gas and forestry have a less than stellar reputation in both our country and the countries they operate in. Our mining operations in Africa and Asia are criticized for the intense social cost including, in some cases, the systematic rape of local women by militia vying for control over mineral rights.

These are extreme examples and hopefully the exception, not the rule. So what are we as business leaders doing to change this trend and begin to lead the world in terms of CSR? To be sure many major retailers and service companies have learned the economic value of saving energy. Some manufacturers have also learned that taking care of foreign workers need not unduly harm their bottom line. However it was agreed in the summit that we need to do much more. Here are some key points that found some consensus among the participating companies at the summit.

We need to act with courage and be forceful in creating change. Look to the Scandinavians as an example of this.
We need to encourage and fund innovation in this sector.
We need to lobby government to create and enforce some regulations to even the playing field for each industry, so no company is penalized for trying to implement positive change.
We need to align the bottom line with CSR to ensure it is not a silo and in fact integrates throughout each organization.

There are many companies operating in Canada who spend more money on green washing than doing actual good. Coca Cola for example talks about peace around the world, yet sponsors recording artists who spout hatred and encourage homophobic violence. But there are also many companies who are committed to long term CSR. Why? Because they are leaders and see the long term benefits to their community, customers, staff and bottom line. A few Canadian companies come to mind. TD Bank (Canada’s greenest large bank), Potash Corp. and Cameco (the latter two being Saskatchewan based companies with a long history of social responsibility).

What about smaller companies? Can we make a difference? I have often been accused of being a bit of a tree hugger, but I am a tree hugger who has built a multi-million dollar ad agency employing 40 staff. So how do we integrate CSR at Top Drawer? First it has to come from the top. If the leaders of a company fundamentally do not believe in social and environmental responsibility, the process will falter. Both myself and my EVP Brian Gahan are strong social and environmental proponents and have been since long before we ran this agency. We create a culture of responsibility that extends to all our practices, people and culture. Here are some of the highlights:

– Our agency is 100% powered by Bullfrog Power a local, sustainable energy company.
– Our new building was retrofitted with key environmental and energy saving technologies and strategies
– We have a bike to work program where we pay our staff to ride their bikes, provide lockers and showers as well as safe indoor bike parking.
– We invest 5% of our billable hours performing pro-bono work for organizations like Second Harvest and Toronto Environmental Alliance
– Our staff fund raise for local charities like the Red Door Shelter and Camp Ooch.
– We are members of Smart Commute and practice car pooling, local hiring and active transportation strategies
– We source local and organic foods for our staff and client events
– Ethical and sustainable sourcing of vendors (example: low carbon, local-sourced wax-based ink, network printer)
– We choose clients that align with our values. They don’t need to be leaders (though some are) but they need to be on the path.

Not one of these alone make much of a difference. It is the holistic practice of social and environmental responsibility that actually moves the needle. And every company can benefit from a committed CSR practice. Canadians fundamentally want good to prevail. So do most of our business leaders. CSR is a reflection of us and as Canadians and we can lead the world in this area. So challenge yourself and your business peers to do more. Contact CBSR to find out how you can. And lean on old hippies like me if you just want some good practical CSR advice.

1st Annual Balmy Beach Clean-Up

October 12, 2011 by  Top Drawer Creative

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