Corporate social responsibility (CSR), particularly environmental social responsibility, is typically thought of as existing primarily in the realm of external communications. It gets used in external sustainability reports, it gets used as part of green marketing, and makes for great corporate press releases.
But, as this article from Triplepundit.com points out, the most successful CSR initiatives begin with employee engagement and making stewardship a part of corporate culture. While CSR is definitely useful for public relations, the foundation needs to come from within:
“The phrase “employees are our greatest asset” seems to be a common platitude at CSR conferences and in annual reports. But corporate responsibility communications are often outwardly focused — aimed at the media, investors, customers; the external community. There is much to be gained by focusing that lens inward, but when it comes to resource allocation, employee communications and engagement is often low on the list.”
And here’s the reasons Triple Pundit thinks so:
The Corporate Leadership Council reports that companies that enjoy high engagement rates have 87 percent lower staff turnover rates and twenty percent better performance.
Customer relationships are often lorded over, cultivated and prized. But today, many customers are seeping through the seams — connecting with your company through mobile devices, social media and the web. Interconnection is powerful but not easy to control.
Embed CSR into the brand from the inside out and there’s a bottom line perk. Employees that viewed their employer as environmentally responsible were fifty percent more likely to recommend their company, according to a study by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Communicate how your company supports an employee’s personal values and they’re more willing to carry your brand beyond the offices walls.”
This notion of employee ambassadors actually extends further than Triplepundit explores. Having an internal culture of corporate social responsibility does more than create opportunities for better PR, it also creates internal environmental champions.
Environmental champions, as we’ve talked about on this blog before, are an essential part of getting your business recognized under ISO 14001 certification and similar environmental programs. You’ll need someone who is passionate and fully engaged with your sustainability efforts that can spread that passion to other employees from within. Starting CSR as an internal value is the best way to foster that.
By starting CSR internally, you’re also more likely to create support for your sustainability efforts outside of the EH&S department. While you of course want your EH&S team to be leaders in everything you do, projects will generate larger rewards if you’ve got enthusiasm and support coming from other departments too.
Environmental champions are also part of the reason why employee retention is higher with internal CSR values. An environmental champion encourages other employees, strives to make the workplace a better place to be, and makes everyday activities part of a larger significant picture.
And when employees - even the ones you wouldn’t classify as environmental champions – feel like what they do makes a difference, they are more likely to strive for higher levels of performance.
Making CSR an internal value also helps your business to be more sincere in its efforts, and not that you’re only pursuing CSR to increase your bottom line. If you truly incorporate CSR into your corporate culture rather than only include it in external sustainability reports, people are more likely to see your sustainability planning as being done for the right reasons.
And consumers are definitely able to see straight through greenwashing marketing, so make sure you take CSR deeper than the surface and start it from within.