2015 marked the beginning of a long-term transition for businesses to become more responsible. This isn’t a question of giving up profit for doing good -- this is a call for businesses to embrace customer values and their increasing desire to buy and use socially responsible products and services.
A flurry of announcements from businesses ranging from global innovation companies to the Greatest Show on Earth highlight how mounting pressure from consumers on social media, through online petitions and organized activists are causing well-known brands to recognize that profit is inextricably linked to corporate social responsibility.
I created Care2 in 1998 as part of my passion to make a positive impact on this world. At no point did I accept that there was a contradiction between profit and social responsibility. Today, more than ever before, your business success is defined by how you take into account your customers’ concerns about social and environmental problems and directly relate it to your product.
Here are four things to consider when aligning your products with your customers’ value.
1. Do our current business practices speak to today’s consumer?
Traditional business practices focus on maximizing value, not on creating long-term positive effects on our country or our planet. Consumers are not only now more aware of the true costs of such business practices -- they’re also more able and willing to punish companies that don’t reflect their personal values. If a corporation is perceived to not respect its customers or the environment, word is likely to spread on social media, and online petitions can quickly attract unwanted media coverage and consumer backlash.
Thus, if your company embraces the values of its customers, you’ll have a competitive advantage in terms of customer loyalty while avoiding risks to your brand and profits.
2. Is responsible practice part of our corporate DNA?
Patagonia, Warby Parker and Etsy are three profitable organizations that are part of a growing B Corporation movement that includes around 1,500 businesses in 42 countries which inject social good into the fabric of their business. Earlier this year, this practice even caught the attention of Unilever, who announced they are considering becoming a B Corporation.
The B Corporation model is a significant next step to help make responsible practices ubiquitous for businesses and is a shining example of what happens if you embrace a customers’ value and desire for socially responsible products from the beginning. In today’s fiercely competitive business environment, failing to weave social responsibility into the fabric of your company culture could mean failure.
3. Are we transparent in our practices?
“We’re responsible and sustainable” can’t just be a marketing slogan. Consumers, more than ever before, are spending money with brands that reflect their values and are essentially pulling corporations in the direction of authenticity and responsibility. For instance, a B Corporation designation is a signal to consumers that a company legitimately cares about people and the environment -- not just profits.
A great resource to chart a path to responsible practice are the criteria outlined to earn the valuable B Corporation designation, which can be used as a standard of measurement. These criteria provide a framework for company operations, set a clear standard for what it means to be responsible and are subject to verification audits.
See how you stack up, and take a sample B Corps assessment.
4. What is right for your business?
Being responsible can take many forms. What works best for one organization may not be right for another. Perhaps your organization will benefit most by embracing a strong mission that resonates with employees and helps in hiring and retaining top talent. Maybe your customers will be attracted by your corporate leadership in sustainability or your version of the buy-one, give-one model. The practices that most clearly align with growing and protecting profits are usually easiest for executives to fully get behind.
Whatever your mission may be, the desire to balance profit and purpose is arguably a return to the model that many of our American companies followed at one time. Somewhere along the way, we seemingly did away with this north star, shifting our businesses to focus solely on share price and short-term prospects at the expense of everything else.
Now, we must create and raise a socially and environmentally responsible companies, because it makes good business sense when competing for customers, employees and sales in today’s business environment.