By Lippe Taylor / Posted on 03 November 2011

Today’s post comes from Nicole Joseph, an account supervisor in our consumer department.

The most valuable partnerships in social responsibility work only if they are born out of a true place and ignite consumers to be mindful in their purchases. That is, generated from a personal connection from the business leaders, employees or consumers. Some companies are being punished for their programs which seem to be produced from a business and marketing plan, rather than truly addressing social and environmental challenges.  Most of these initiatives may be well intentioned, however often seem like “must do’s” for businesses to make even more money. This concept has been recently referred to as “Shared Value”, a new theory to reinvent capitalism. The concept explored in a recent Harvard Business Review article defines Shared Value as “policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates.”  This is an elaboration of the notion of corporate self-interest or quite bluntly, greed. These practices are shaping young consumers’ opinions of corporations and brands.

Many of these big businesses referred to have the power to assist and transform social challenges we currently face. This power starts internally, such as transparency and sustainability practices, which act as a platform to demonstrate to consumers that the business understands the public’s expectations. The second types of actions are those that involve consumers in the brands focus of social transformation. This includes putting consumers in a position where their purchases will control the businesses social responsibility contributions. Such as for every bottle of water bought, a percentage is donated to a given charity or cause, which in some way takes the responsibility out of the brands hands but also allows the instant gratification generation to feel less guilty about their purchases! Two examples include, Community Collection, the first-ever sale site to donate 20% from every purchase to a “good” cause. The site pairs trendy designers such as Alexander Wang and Helmut Lang with charitable organizations like Operation Homefront, Flying Kites, Partners in Health, and World Wildlife Fund.  Another model has a slogan of “Where Hope is Delicious”, the menu is locally sourced and a donation of $10 is appreciated for a three-course meal. This is Bon Jovi’s recent not-for-profit program, The Soul Kitchen where patrons have the option of paying what they want for their meal or donating their time to wash dishes, do community service or bus tables if they can’t afford to pay. LinkedIn also recently released data which reinforces that volunteer work is a key piece of your professional identity. LinkedIn members can now add volunteer positions, causes they care about, and organizations they support on their profile.

Social accountability can now be quantified with the introduction of online resources such as The Good Guide which measures a company’s social responsibility footprint. The website rates 120,000 products by their environmental impact, health and social responsibility on a scale of 1 to 10. The rank takes into account the life cycle assessment, environmental engineering, chemistry, nutrition and sociology. Another site, JustMeans Insights assists investors, the media, practitioners and consumers measure a company’s CSR, environmental impact and sustainability performance against its competitors. Sites like these are recognizing the right of every consumer to have a say in which brands and products succeed or need to change their behavior.

With all of these socially responsible deeds going around, surely they can’t be all bad. I mean, it’s better than doing nothing and sitting on our hands, right? I am a skeptic at the best of times with all things big business; however, I do have a bit of faith that this focus (or craze) will create a third pillar of social transformation or in the first instance simply address the issues that need to be tacked with full force.

Image courtesy of TonyTone via Flickr Creative Commons.