Sustainability Corner with Ebenezer ASUMANG & Romein VAN STADEN
“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.”
— Nelson Mandela, Former South African President, freedom fighter, and philanthropist
It’s time to talk about the crème de la crème, the best in class, the businesses that hands down lead the way when it comes to making a meaningful difference in their workplace and society at large. These companies are creating a shift in how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was perceived and done in the past to transition CSR as a value-adding approach. The game-changers.
These are the new breed of businesses that can balance making healthy profits while at the same instance meeting societal needs and acting as forces for good in their communities. Today, CSR in business practice has elevated well surpassed just philanthropy, as known in the past. These game-changer businesses are making meaningful progress and contributions, whether in the workplace or in society, and they are not afraid to make bold changes. These businesses have a socially conscious business model that is both financially savvy and environmentally friendly. They use their strong business sense to find solutions for social issues, combat climate change and promote employee wellness, to mention but a few differences that they make.
Game-changers in action
Let’s look at a few companies excelling at practicing what they are preaching. These game-changer companies embrace change and never feel pressured to innovate since these characteristics are at their core. After all, these businesses are committed to making the world a better place and making a difference. First, let’s look at IBM. The company’s mission is to innovate, but this innovation can be social and technological. In the 1990s, they saw a chance to innovate in education and develop the technology needed. So, IBM began a partnership with K-12 public schools to help them tackle some of their everyday problems. For instance, the collaboration produced a Watch-Me!-Read software to help children improve their reading.
Another game-changer is Procter & Gamble (P&G), a prominent global leader in consumer products. They provide an excellent example of how making a social impact and considering the environment are central to profits. However, there were years when the P&G branch in Brazil, which specialized in the company’s feminine hygiene products, was only earning small revenues. However, they had a pretty good idea of fixing this problem. They had their main product, “the Always” brand of panty liners, all they needed to do was devise a way to cut production costs while simultaneously increasing output. A daunting but achievable task.
To achieve this task, P&G Brazil began a collaboration process across all its internal stakeholders, departments and invited input from its external partners, such as their trade partners and advertising agencies. Collectively, they came up with an innovative idea. The packaging would be transparent with colorful wrapping inside. By eliminating the outer packaging, they significantly reduced the cost of ink per package, and for sure, within a year, the product was earning far greater profits.
Take an example from the printing industry with Xerox. Xerox is another game-changer worth deliberating on. The printing giant excels in its business and commitment to creating a more sustainable world. In 2018, Xerox was named One of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for the 12th consecutive time. Xerox was also included in America’s most JUST companies for two years in a row. With such credentials, it is no doubt that Xerox emphasizes its Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.
According to the 2019 CSR report, “Design for Sustainability” has always been one of their main goals as they recognize the environmental, social, and economic impacts caused by their products. Therefore, they have invested heavily in research and development to design more sustainable products and minimize the use of hazardous materials. As part of their zero-waste initiative, they have developed “a comprehensive end-of-life product recall system” that identifies the elements of a product that can be remanufactured, refurbished, recycled, reused, and resold. This facilitates multiple product life cycles as their materials can be used continuously repeatedly, minimizing waste that contributes to landfills.
Consider, for instance, Levi Strauss & Co. Levi Strauss & Co. made denim jeans a universal piece of clothing, and they are on their way to making water conservation a universal process in the manufacturing industry. Numerous organizations treat the problem caused by their products as part of their CSR initiatives because they are obliged. Still, Levi Strauss & Co. believes in prevention and is putting mechanisms and strategies in place to ensure that water as a scarce commodity is a priority. A case in point is they started researching and assessing their products’ impact on the environment so that they were able to create a more sustainable method in their manufacturing process. They started their analysis with their most iconic Levi’s 501 jeans pair. Working with third-party organizations, Levi Strauss & Co. found out that more than 3000 liters of water were used during the entire product cycle of one pair of jeans from cotton in the ground, washing of jeans, and eventual disposal of the product.
Investing time, resources, and effort in research and development, their designers have developed 20 innovative techniques to use less water in their jeans manufacturing process. An example would be to turn golf balls and bottle caps upside down to get jeans with soft felt instead of using fabric softener with water. Both methods are equally effective, but the first uses less water. When their techniques proved successful, they began implementing the “waterless” process in their design and production pipeline. As a result, they reduced the amount of water commonly used in the finishing process of denim fabrics by up to 96%, saving 3 billion liters of water and recycling more than 1.5 billion liters of water. In 2019, 69% of their bottoms were made of the “waterless” technique. They even open-sourced their innovation to other manufacturing companies so that all of them can work towards reducing water wastage.
And finally, there’s the story of Patagonia. For years, Patagonia has shown from their clothing to their CSR projects that their mission statement, “We’re in business to save our home planet,” is constantly at the back of their minds. Their actions serve as a representation of that same statement they made. Patagonia has always been vocal and transparent about its beliefs as an environmental activist. Apart from integrating sustainability into their clothing, they have contributed heavily to environmental causes in terms of corporate philanthropy. For more than 30 years, the socially responsible company has donated 1% of its annual sales to charities and grassroots organizations. According to reports and other sources, Patagonia views these contributions as “one of their standard costs of doing business and something that is as much a core element of Patagonia as selling shirts and jackets”.
Patagonia engages and deploys like-minded activists to champion lands, water, climate, communities, and biodiversity issues. They have given over $100 million to grantees since 1985 to take action on environmental issues. Instead of an individualistic approach, this outdoor company believes in a collective effort to bring about change. This illustration provided an excellent depiction of CSR as it evolved over the years and demonstrated how human behaviour also did and to what extent companies become a force for good. Why? Because today’s problems, such as the environment, climate change, technological challenges, and healthcare, are too complex for one company to solve alone. This shows that all businesses can make a difference and be agents of change. However, the obligation to perform and deliver results from their initiatives has distracted many companies from the main motive of CSR, which is to align a company’s CSR projects with its business strategy and core values.
Being a game-changer often brings conflict, resistance, and uncertainty, but companies shouldn’t let that hold them back. It is usually only when risks are taken, and businesses lean into the unknown that brave, meaningful change happens.
These game-changer companies acknowledge that creating a shift in the status quo, experiences, and beliefs takes more effort. But it will yield substantial, long-lasting changes that will make a solid base for the results they want in the foreseeable future.
After all, this process occurs on different scales and at different speeds for various organizations. Therefore, companies must consider assuming a new approach to their organization’s culture and modus operandi as a transition, not a transformation. They see this transition as a means to an end, not the other way around. In this way, CSR is a vital strategy that allows businesses to invest in society, supporting them and integrating environmental and social issues in their business processes. This ensures that they continue to drive change and make a difference in the present and the future.
Kotler, Philip; Hessekiel, David; and Lee, Nancy (2012), Good Works!: Marketing and Corporate Initiatives that Build a Better World… and the Bottom Line. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Chandler, D. (2015), Corporate Social Responsibility: A Strategic Perspective, Business Expert Press, New York.
About the Writers:
Romein is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. Romein is a multi-disciplinary professional with experience in various sectors. Contact him via (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ebenezer is a Development Communication Specialist, MSME & SDG Enthusiast, Finance & Investment Nomad, and a WriterPreneur. He`s Country Director (Ag) of PIRON Global Development GmbH, Ghana (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])