Tim Longhurst's Blog

Corporate Social Responsibility – Show the community you care

May 12th, 2005 · No Comments

RUSH MOTTLING is a guest columnist. While Rush’s views do not necessarily reflect those of this website, we feel our readers deserve access to ideas from a variety of perspectives. We hope you enjoy the words of this popular and charismatic commentator.

ogilvy.jpgThe day Coca-Cola announced they were putting recycling points throughout Sydney, I came close to selling my shares. As a stockholder, I was outraged. What were they doing squandering my dividends on this hippy-initiative?

I’m man enough to admit, I didn’t give the folks at Coke the credit they deserve.

Some people are starting to ask questions about the “limits to growth” and they’re looking at companies like Coke with an eye of suspicion.

Some critics contend that legitimate enterprises such as Coca-Cola place an “unnecessary burden” on an “ailing planet”. They focus on the trucks, plastics factories, sugar-cane plantations and refrigeration systems that are required to drive an industry that “ultimately creates cavities, obesity and landfill”. So how can Coke address such concerns while leaving their core business unscathed? One way is to invest in recycling containers. Now that’s proactive environmentalism.

Of course Coke cares about the environment – they know it’s all about striking a balance. Coke have listened to their stakeholders and they’ve made some significant changes. Through the purchase of recycling containers they’ve become greener than a Sprite bottle! You might hear critics like Tim Longhurst claim that such initiatives are a cynical move to distract the public. Let me launch a pre-emptive strike on such stupidity: Longy, you’re an idiot.

Our friends at Coke are investing in what is called ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR). It’s a complex process that involves a consideration of what the environment or the community need and then demonstrating that you share
those concerns and fixing those problems is what your company is all about.

To illustrate the importance of CSR, I’ll include some case studies:

Community Case Study: National Australia Bank

National Australia Bank have recently reported a 17 per cent jump in first-half net profit to $2.5 billion. The next minute, they announce they’re going to fire 10% of their workforce: 4200 workers.

What are you going to do? Focus on the devastated families?

Of course not. You might need to be reminded that the NAB allows charities to list their fundraising events on the bank’s website! How many companies do that? NAB are the good guys!

Really, it all balances out.

Environment Case Study: Shell Oil

The television commercial opens with soothing ‘pan flute’ whistling. An environmental scientist is gushing about how glad she is to be working with such a great, forward thinking company…how she’s proud to be protecting our ‘fragile environment’. Cut to footage of untouched wilderness… A sweeping panorama of rainforest set amongst rolling mountains… Fade to black… Reveal Shell logo.

I marvel at Shell’s commitment to the environment every time I picture that commercial. Critics might question what a pristine rainforest has to do with an oil company. But where are critics going to find $5 million to run a counter-campaign? Not from selling beads and driving Canola Oil cars!

In the Shell example I have highlighted one of the most important elements of great CSR: Greenwashing. For too long, businesses have taken the environment for granted. Sure, they have exploited it for profit, but it’s only in recent years that they have begun exploiting it for reputation.

A buddy of mine at Burson Marsteller summed up CSR with these words: Perception Management. “Changing what
you do?” he shuddered, “That’s hard. Changing what it looks like you do?” he smiled: ‘That can be arranged.”

Perhaps the most valuable element of CSR is that there is little need for transparency: you can spend $50,000 on a charity and then $500,000 talking about how good it felt to give to charity. Pretty soon, people will see that it’s ok if your company pays little or no tax: you give more than enough back to the community as it is. Charging tax to the
very company that is providing recycling containers across Sydney?

Sounds a bit rich, doesn’t it?


Rush Mottling is not real. He is made up.
Rush’s essays are published here with permission.

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