Sustainable business operations: from cause-related marketing to added value for the entire organisation
Times are changing. An increasing number of organisations are actively taking steps towards becoming more transparent about their added social value. In internal and external communications, packaging, websites and annual reports, information about the organisation’s level of sustainability, social consciousness and relevance is communicated more and more explicitly. However, if you really want to join the new economy with your organisation, this communication must have some substance.
Sustainablity as a selection criterion
Confident organisations translate added social value into core values that permeate everything. Especially the organisation’s core products and services. And this will pay off in the near future. Already 73% of consumers are willing to recommend companies with socially responsible business practices. Also in the B-to-B sector sustainability is becoming an ever more important selection criterion for the entire decision-making unit. According to data from MVO Nederland, `already’ 1 in every 4 companies communicates about its sustainability story.
Last week, I attended the opening of the most sustainable building in the Netherlands, The Edge. Initiators and financiers Deloitte, OVG, Philips and ABN AMRO jostled each other in claiming that this step towards sustainability is what customers and employees expect from them. And that the building symbolizes their overall vision and policy. Sustainability is the 2015 buzz word and stands for innovation and being future-oriented. A great promise by - for me - unexpected riders in the sustainability pack. Not surprisingly, I now have high hopes about all other fields and all other projects these parties are involved in.
Step by step
Because when it comes to sustainability, if you’re in for a penny, you must be in for a pound as well. There is no need to reach 100% in one go, but every year should show some improvement. There is a trend from being an organisation showing corporate social responsibility towards becoming a socially responsible organisation in the core of the products and services you provide.
There are several organisations that support the business community in this process, standing up for companies where shareholder value is not the only criterion, but where a much broader definition of stakeholders is used. In becoming a member, you commit yourself to a charter, business principles, manifesto or codes of conduct. De Groene Zaak (`the Green Cause’) is an active player in the Netherlands, primarily focussing on influencing policy-making in the Netherlands and Europe in order to accelerate sustainabilization and the circular economy. Recently, a clause was added to their charter explicitly stating that members of the Green Cause should actively communicate about their sustainability policy and ambitions in this field. The Green Cause is as such a real lobbyist. In comparison, MVO Nederland is more a networking organisation and centre of expertise. Just recently, the international quality mark BCorp (Benefit Corporation) was established, with the kick-off taking place in the Netherlands. BBK/Door Vriendschap Sterker has now received the BCorp label. Together with Schuttelaar & Partners, we are in the vanguard of sustainable communications agencies in the Netherlands.
To become a BCorp, a company must complete a thorough assessment with regard to social involvement, position and circumstances of employees, contribution to the local economy and ecological impact. Moreover, the organizational policy is assessed: are the sustainability principles embedded in the articles of association? Are employees allowed to participate in the policy-making? Are customers asked about their experiences? Are employees remunerated appropriately and do they have access to training programmes, even if they’re not employed on a permanent basis?
The international BCorp organisation promotes a new fiscal regime for Benefit Corporations. Profit principles are linked to social causes, which is something the tax authorities should take into account. In the US, some states have already taken that step. In the Netherlands, this is championed by Social Enterprise Nederland, the organisation looking after the interests of social entrepreneurs.
Added value for the entire organisation
The common denominator of all these organisations is the belief that CSR policy not embedded in the core of organisations, will in time turn out to be insufficient. I’m not suggesting in any way that organisations should stop their support for Unicef, their sponsorship of the Stedelijk Museum or their participation in NLdoet, but if we mean business we must go from cause-related marketing to added value for the entire organisation. No escape possible for any department or supplier.
Furthermore, a BCorp is expected to be transparent about the company policy conducted in all these fields and to assume a leadership role in the discussion about social business practices in one’s own industry. In the field of communications this means that communicating to customers about sustainability is not sufficient, the communication itself should become sustainable as well. Again, 100% is not expected in one go, but every day should prove improvements are being made.
Transparent and interactive
Sustainable communication is honest, credible and aimed at long-term relationships with customers, employees and other stakeholders. Using sustainable printers and data while respecting privacy. Focussing on entering into a dialogue and a consistent customer story from all disciplines. With messages without prejudice or sexist remarks and aimed at constructive social values. Because of the ever present social media, it’s important to have every employee’s commitment in achieving this. Every customer contact, from welcome mail to complaint, is important in this process. Communication is a discipline with which all companies can start right now. The language of the new economy is transparent and interactive and something organisations should start using sooner rather than later.