CSR: There’s More than Meets the Eye

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Posted At: April 9, 2008 12:36 PM
by Caitlin Graham and Anna Catherine Roberson

With an increase in consumer awareness, companies are held to a higher standard and have responded with beneficial programs that affect the public as well as improve the companies’ reputations, or in a nutshell, corporate social responsibility (CSR). The World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Making Good Business Sense defines CSR as “the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.” Now more than ever, a company is looked at not only for the service it provides but also the impact, positive or negative, the company has on society from start to finish. CSR is integral to PR because it strengthens the reputation of the company and gives consumers confidence in the company’s service through transparency and total commitment to making a positive change.

Southern Company lights up CSR

In 2008, Corporate Responsibility Officer Magazine named Atlanta-based Southern Company one of its “100 Best Corporate Citizens.” Southern Company ranks 31st on this year’s list, which also includes Nike, Intel, Bank of America, Starbucks and Coca-Cola, among others. But what makes Southern Co. so special? Southern Co. works hard to ensure it is serving the community and actively being the best corporate citizen possible.

Jason Cuevas, manager of media relations for Southern Co., says corporate social responsibility is something that is taken “very seriously. We believe that we as employees are citizens in the communities that we serve and taking part in community activities and giving back to the community is extremely important. We believe that being a good corporate citizen means incorporating ourselves into the areas in which we live and work through philanthropic as well as social and environmental actions.”

In order to ensure that it is being a good corporate citizen, Southern Co. participates in several programs every year to give back to the community. These programs include Georgia Power’s “Change a Light, Change the World” campaign in which it gave out 200,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs and encouraged customers to take a pledge to change at least one light bulb to a more efficient one. Southern Co. also works very hard to give back to the environment as much as possible. The Renew Our Rivers program is an excellent example of how Southern Co. works with communities to help the environment. Renew Our Rivers is a program in which volunteers take time to help clean polluted water ways in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida.

“Environmental stewardship is extremely important,” Cuevas says. “Renew Our Rivers not only incorporates the community but also the environment, which is always our ultimate goal.”

Southern Co., however, does not stop with environmental stewardship and volunteering in the community. It is also very active in sponsoring cultural events, such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and even rewards scholarships to employees’ college-aged children. So what does all of this have to do with public relations? Cuevas explains that through being a good corporate citizen, Southern Co. has earned credibility by keeping a trustworthy track record with the media.

“Our first objective is to always be credible in everything we do,” Cuevas says. “No matter what the issue is, whether it is environmental, social or a major crisis, our first mission is to tell the truth and disseminate the information as quickly and accurately as possible.”

Cuevas also explains that it is important to respect the information, good or bad, the media distributes. If it is wrong, then they correct it in a respectable manner.

“Being straightforward and credible in every situation is crucial not only in corporate social responsibility, but in all aspects of public relations,” Cuevas says. “And at the end of the day, that is really all you can ask for.”

Nike and corporate responsibility: “just do it” well.

Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, lent not only her name to Nike Inc. but also her sense of dominance that is evident in the company’s corporate responsibility principles. Nike has evolved from the world’s foremost brand of athletic shoes and equipment into a corporation that strives to make a positive impact on the environment, its workers and society.

The company’s 2004-2005 fiscal year report details Nike’s aggressive efforts to solve problems before they can begin, instead of haphazardly dealing with crises. Its corporate responsibility stand is clear: “It shouldn’t be about business tradeoffs, managing problems and mitigating risks. It should be about harnessing innovation to create something new and better.”

This report is available online at http://www.nikeresponsibility.com, a Web site dedicated to Nike’s corporate responsibility. This site illustrates a key feature of the company’s success as far as accountability: transparency. It covers all corporate responsibility areas and includes a list of active factories, the Code of Conduct that governs all workers and factories and a list of restricted substances in Nike products. The Web site is straightforward and honest, providing viewers with Nike’s vision of improvement in every area.

The corporation is committed to making products that are environmentally safe at each step of the manufacturing process from raw materials to packaging. Nike has set goals for three areas—footwear, apparel and equipment—that will meet its own environmental standards in upcoming years.

Nike’s almost 800,000 employees all follow the same Code of Conduct regardless of factory or country and are protected by management and safety audits. The company also has a goal by 2011 to end overtime work in contract factories, a problem that often leads to added stress and sub-par products.

Let Me Play is a program developed by Nike that aids youth and community development through sports. $100 million has been given across the world, and another $315 million will be invested by 2011. The Nike Foundation began in 2005 as a way to empower the world’s adolescent girls. The foundation sends money, to date more than $28 million, to organizations worldwide that help women.

The image of the giant of sports apparel hasn’t always been this golden. The early 1990s found Nike using child labor to make soccer balls. The public outcry prompted change from the corporation that has since worked to clear its name.

And it seems to be working. Business Ethics ranked Nike number 31 in 2005, 13 in 2006 and third in 2007 on their list of the “100 Best Corporate Citizens.” Nike remains one of the top 50 brands worldwide with yearly revenues of more than $16 billion.

Sources:

(2007). Nike CR report. Retrieved March 14, 2008, Nike Web site:http://www.nikeresponsibility.com/#home/
(2007). 100 Best Corporate Citizens. Retrieved March 19, 2008, from Business Ethics Web site: http://www.business-ethics.com/BE100_all

E-mail Jason Cuevas

How important do you think it is for CSR and PR to work in tandem? Do you think CSR should be responsible for accommodating to trends like enviromental concerns?

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