Getting out there: Corporate social responsibility fast becoming a ‘must’

By Carolyn Heinze


It used to be that corporate social responsibility (CSR) was a nice thing for companies to do – a gesture, or random act of kindness that wasn’t really an integral part of the organization’s daily operations. But as Generation Y becomes an increasingly significant voice in the workforce, CSR is evolving into an almost standard component of every business. Not only does it enable companies to establish a solid reputation within their communities; it serves to recruit – and retain – top talent as well.


Valerie Grubb, founder and president of Val Grubb & Associates, Ltd. in New York, New York, is a 20-year veteran of Corporate America. Before founding her leadership and training consultancy in 2008, she held high-level positions at NBC Universal, Oxygen Media and Rolls Royce. Her consulting firm boasts a client list that includes Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Goodwill, and even Sesame Street. A firm believer that good ethics are good business, Grubb told that CSR isn’t just the right thing to do…it’s the thing to do.


What’s the business case for corporate social responsibility?
VG: There are a lot of good reasons that corporate social responsibility can benefit a company. It helps to recruit and retain top talent. People kind of expect this now – certainly the millennial generation. It’s really a part of their DNA. For Generation X, it was something that you did a couple of times to put on a resume. Now, if you’re going for top talent, this is real.


It can also help to increase productivity internally, because employees feel like they are working for a company that makes them feel good, and that they can feel good about. There is a lot to be said for working for a company that makes you feel good, and values you.


How would you define corporate social responsibility?
VG: From my perspective, it’s thinking about how your company can have a positive impact on everything: the environment, employees, consumers, the community. When you think of employees being part of a company that’s got a very strong corporate social responsibility program and really means it – it’s not just a slogan on a Web site – it’s going to give them more pride in where it is that they work.


Corporate social responsibility spans the gamut from recycling to figuring out your product lifecycle. It can keep customers happy, it can help companies to have a positive brand image, and it can also mitigate risk. We are seeing more and more government involvement in mitigating companies’ impact on the environment, and by stepping forward, it can help you mitigate risk for your company.


What does it require out of top and middle management?
VG: It starts at the top. It really needs to be supported by company leaders. If it is not, then you do not have a program. It starts with ethical behavior. Ethical behavior emanates from the top, and if you’ve got anyone who is less than responsive, at that point it would be very difficult to come in and ask middle managers to model behavior, because they are seeing bad examples.


Is corporate social responsibility applicable to smaller companies?
VG: Absolutely. An example that sticks out in my mind is TOMS Shoes ( out of California. For every pair of shoes that is purchased, a pair is given to a child in need.


For smaller companies, the question is: How can we be a part of this? You look at the low-hanging fruit such as conserving water and recycling, and then long-lead items such as green HR practices, promoting volunteerism, carbon offsetting, donating green, LEED office space and all of these things. Then you can come back and ask: How can we bring social responsibility into every part of our product lifecycle, from who we buy from, to how we sell it, to how we ship it? Any company can do that. In fact, I think that smaller to mid-sized companies are more nimble and can actually make changes. With big companies, it can be more challenging for them because it’s like moving the Titanic away from that iceberg. It takes them years and years to re-think things because it’s such a behemoth to move. Small to medium-sized companies really can make changes immediately and figure out how they can be socially responsible from end to end.

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