Tuesday 15 October 2019

CSR is taking business success to a different level

Larry Fink, chairman and CEO at BlackRock. Photo: Reuters
Larry Fink, chairman and CEO at BlackRock. Photo: Reuters

Catherine Walsh

We have entered a new dawn of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The public now demands that companies recognise that their business activities and operations have social impacts and there is increasing pressure to demonstrate that your business serves a social purpose as well as a commercial one. Yet we observe that many organisations focus only on philanthropy or environmental impact, ignoring workplace, community and marketplace.

Larry Fink, chairman and CEO at BlackRock, is responsible for more than $6trillion (€5.4trillion) in assets for one of the world's largest global asset-management firms. In his open letter to CEOs, he advocates for practices that he believes will drive sustainable, long-term growth and profitability.

He insisted on the importance of companies serving a social as well as a financial purpose - to prosper over time, companies must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how they make positive contributions to society.

Traditionally business has focused on the financials. But business is now sitting up and listening, and CSR is finally being talked about in the boardroom.

Mr Fink also writes about the fact that millennials - who today represent 35pc of the workforce - have a focus on purpose and have new expectations of the companies they work for, buy from, and invest in.

In the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, millennial workers were asked what the primary purpose of businesses should be. Some 63pc more of them said "improving society" than said "generating profit".

We have seen an evolution of the concept of CSR. The initial CSR concept focused on the environment and included carbon footprint and recycling. We are now in a new era of CSR with a more systematic definition informed by EU and Irish policy.

Ireland is ahead of the average in the importance the general public places on CSR, based on our comparison of Ireland RepTrak results against our global partner Reputation Institute's results in other markets.

In Ireland, the three CSR dimensions (citizenship, governance and workplace) drive 46.3pc of an organisation's reputation with the general public. CSR is more important to an organisation's reputation in Ireland than what you sell or the service you provide (30.2pc) or how you bring your product/service to market at the operational level (23.6pc).

Today, organisations are more widely scrutinised based on their alignment with social causes, their behaviour, their organisational values and the internal culture they create.

The public are more attuned to the reputation of an organisation and, for the public, actions speak louder than words. We have seen this considerable appetite for news about what the business world is doing to contribute to the well-being of society, the planet, and their workforce sharpening each year.

We set up our CSR division to deliver specialist expertise to help our clients exploit this opportunity, appreciating all the nuances of potential for public scepticism. We know our work has helped our clients improve their business results, as well as their reputations.

Catherine Walsh is head of CSR at The Reputations Agency.

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