Corporate Responsibility: Adopting an Effective Strategy

The rhetoric surrounding Corporate Responsibility can be off-putting to companies with many small businesses assuming they can never live up to such grand claims. But taken in achievable steps, every company can adopt an effective CR strategy. Patrick Jelly, managing director of Pitney Bowes UK, assesses the reality of CR adoption and outlines how businesses of all sizes can adopt an effective and relevant strategy.

CR and CSR sit among those sets of initials – like B2B, CRM, SME – that have simply become assimilated into everyday business speak. CR is a broader term for CSR. To understand what these initials literally stand for is the easy part but, as a casual trawl of the web will reveal, to define what CR (Corporate Responsibility) or the older term CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) means has not proved so simple.

There are myriad definitions of CSR, with analysts seemingly divided on whether it is the ‘Corporate’, the ‘Social’ or the ‘Responsibility’ that should demand the most focus. Along with this confusion of meaning comes a host of bold claims that seemingly position CSR as the Holy Grail. Little wonder that businesses of every size are both irresistibly attracted to CSR but also somewhat daunted by the prospect of meeting such grand expectations.

It is up to companies then to define for themselves what those expectations should be. As a company, Pitney Bowes has decided to use the term CR, extending the concept to caring for the environment and seeing to the proper disposal and recycling of equipment and consumables. It means taking on responsibilities beyond the ‘social’ and committing to having a positive impact on the physical state of the community as well.

It is important to remember that there are no prewritten rules for CR programmes, although there are general guidelines emerging such as those from the Global Reporting Initiative, an independent institution that provides a framework for tracking social and environmental activities. Still, there is no predetermined design of what a CR programme should look like, but there are definite pitfalls to avoid.

Certainly, there is little point in a CR programme for the sake of it. Arguably, businesses that take up a CR initiative in a bid to appear forward-thinking and progressive, only to then withdraw once the spotlight moves to the next business trend, will do themselves more harm than good.  Any CR policy must represent a long-term commitment – which takes planning, staff commitment and budget. Equally, businesses should avoid over-committing and making promises that simply aren’t realistic or affordable. Businesses are not charities and there should be no shame in being overt about the commercial benefits that a strong CR programme can deliver. If anything, CR adds a new dimension to the discussion about how businesses might strike a balance between short-term profitability and long-term growth.

When looking at our own programme, a major consideration for Pitney Bowes was that much of the activity should relate back to our core business. We run an annual auction event called Pushing the Envelope to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust (NLT). We got involved with the NLT five years ago because, as a company, Pitney Bowes is all about improving communications for our customers. The National Literacy Trust is driving to improve standards of literacy across all age groups – and improved literacy obviously means improved communication.

Pitney Bowes is heavily involved with literacy charities in America and we wanted to reflect the company’s position on a local scale. The Pushing the Envelope event relates back to our core business activity because we ask celebrities and artists to design envelopes. The fact that these designs are on envelopes makes the event stand out, but also references our core strength of mail and messaging technology.

On the environmental side, Pitney Bowes takes back equipment and either disposes of it responsibly – recycling parts and recovering precious metals – or refurbishes it to sell in other markets. The company is committed to protecting the environment and is an accredited ISO 14001 company.

There is clear evidence that customers are beginning to expect the businesses they deal with to be CR advocates – taking on social responsibilities and meeting environmental standards. In the consumer market, businesses of all sizes are dedicating significant portions of their budget to declaring their CR colours. In the business to business arena, CR is by no means yet a critical influencer. But, in a competitive market, CR can represent a differentiator from competitors and an area of common ground with clients in initial new business discussions. Indeed, customers with their own CR policy are likely to scrutinise the CR credentials of suppliers and partners in order that they can tell a convincing and consistent story to their own audience.

Equally, CR can play an important part in improving a company’s standing in its own community – which in turn can aid the recruitment process. Similarly, existing employees like to feel part of a company that is seen to be responsible and ‘giving back’ to the wider community. This employee engagement can be driven by involving staff at every level in events and campaigns. What’s more, promoting diversity within the workplace can be another key element of a CR programme. Of course, as with any new business strategy, CR has its detractors. Critics argue that CR distracts from the fundamental economic role of businesses while others argue that it is nothing more than superficial window-dressing. Certainly, our own involvement with the National Literacy Trust has been well received by both staff and customers. But more than this – and a point that’s often overlooked – it’s been enormous fun!  Pitney Bowes has been able to align its brand to such stellar names as Damien Hirst, Sir Ian McKellan, Kate Winslet and hundreds of others, whilst raising much valued funds for an extremely deserving cause.

The message is – don’t simply adopt CR for the sake of it. Think long-term, find relationships that make sense for your brand and be creative. Sensible CR partnerships suggest a company that is more aware of its wider role.

CR champions argue that there is a strong case for adopting an effective CR strategy as businesses benefit in multiple ways by operating with a perspective broader and longer than their own immediate, short-term profits. Whatever one’s personal opinion, there is little doubt that CR is no flash-in-the-pan and that, increasingly, consumers and organisations are looking to do business with companies that display this broader perspective.

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