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Innocent founder explains CSR’s role in staff and customer engagement

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18th Oct 2015
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Innocent Drinks has never been a conventional company. Started by three close friends who shared the same principles in their approach to life as well as business, right from the beginning there was a sense that Innocent wasn’t only about making a profit, and that it needed to be more than just a business.

“We wanted to leave things a little bit better than we found them; to work in a more enlightened way, where we took responsibility for the impact of our business on society and the environment,” co-founder Richard Reed told MyCustomer.com’s sister site BusinessZone recently.

“Put simply, it was in our strategy from conception that we wanted to become a truly sustainable business where we have a net positive effect on the world around us. I believe that a business, no matter how big or small, has a role to play in making the world a better place alongside its commercial obligations.”

And this belief is reflected by Innocent’s mantra: “Tastes good, does good”.

Research has demonstrated the value of having such a clear social or human ‘purpose’, with customer experience expert Shaun Smith recently launching a new book (On Purpose) demonstrating how it has become an increasingly vital component of brand strategy.  

Elsewhere, driven by the expectation for brands to create more than just financial value, and the growing demand that corporations must act with more “integrity and transparency”, a new study from Radley Yeldar found that 75% of companies now describe their higher purpose in terms of social or human benefit.

Reed acknowledges: “The adoption of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has come a long way, with community outreach and sustainability becoming standard practice for most well-known business leaders.”

He lists some of the benefits that CSR can deliver to organisations, from strengthened corporate and brand reputations and enhanced trust with other key stakeholders (customers, regulatory agencies, suppliers, and investors), improved risk management, increased revenues from innovation to identify new business.

But he also emphasises the impact that corporate social responsibility can have on the organisation as an employer, if it is fully integrated into the company’s business model.

Reed says: “We wanted to become a truly sustainable business where we have a net positive effect on the world around us. A business’ CSR efforts can make a huge difference to potential clients as well as to the talent it hopes to attract to its workforce.”

And he suggests that organisations should not underestimate the power of being “a business that reflects values that its employees can emotionally connect with”.

“People want to work for businesses that can show that they care for the communities they are operating in or working with,” he emphasises.

Walk the talk

But it cuts both ways, and those organisations that communicate a message of social responsibility but don’t back it up in their company practices and culture can find themselves breeding disenchantment in the organisation and amongst its customer base.

Radley Yeldar’s Fit for Purpose Index suggests that over a third (36%) of businesses make major claims about fulfilling their purpose in customer communications, without convincingly backing it up with tangible actions or commitments.

As Ben Richards, consulting director at Radley Yeldar, notes: “A purpose statement might once have been manufactured in a corner of an organisation and used on the cover of the corporate brochure: this is no longer good enough. For purpose to be effective it must be an authentic part of every interaction and businesses are well placed to be a genuine force for change, something we’ve seen consumers respond to and support.”   

Efforts to ‘greenwash’ a brand, making environmental claims mainly to shift more products, can backfire badly with customers. And this is also the case with employees. Just as strong brand values can drive employee engagement, so organisations that fail to live up to their CSR or green credentials can see levels of engagement drop.

For this reason, it is important that corporate social responsibility is intrinsically linked to the brand’s core values to avoid suspicions that it is merely something cosmetic. Because the reality is that in today’s world, both consumers and employees are demanding that organisations are contributing to society.

However, while Innocent’s purpose is intrinsically linked to the brand’s values, the same can’t be said for most brands, according to the Fit For Purpose Index. It found that of those brands questioned, only around a third (38%) had aligned their sustainability strategy and their purpose; only 11% had placed their purpose at the heart of their business model and only 9% had integrated purpose to their employees’ everyday work.

As a result, it concluded that although three-quarters described their higher purpose in terms of social or human benefit, only around a tenth (11%) could convincingly demonstrate how their purpose is put into practice.

Reed acknowledges that actions speak louder than words, and that brands must walk the walk as well as talking the talk if they are to keep up with customer and employee demands.

“Across the board, the business world is increasingly under pressure to demonstrate responsible business practises. While many come under legal compliance like environmental legislation, more and more frequently, the businesses of today are increasingly being encouraged to go that extra mile.

“To remain competitive in today’s fierce working environment, employers need to be able to adapt to new demands from both the market in which they operate in and society, no matter the size of the business.”

And Reed also emphasises that being a socially responsible business needn’t cost a fortune. 

“CSR can range from no-cost or very low-cost initiatives, such as giving staff days off work to volunteer for good causes, to high-budget strategy supported by PR or advertising. There's no one-size-fits-all model but as long as it’s considered and planned, business are only limited by ingenuity and creativity.”

Reed concludes: “Doing good doesn't need to cost the earth.”

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