The supplement to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, CSR-Unternehmen, Gesellschaft, Verantwortung, (CSR: Enterprises, Society, Responsibility) has been lying on my desk for a few days now. Obviously, we at betterplace take a huge interest in this topic, since our platform offers companies the opportunity to present their social commitment in a completely novel and transparent way, motivating both their employers and customers.
However, as a series of articles show all too clearly, Germany is anything but a pioneer in the field of corporate social responsibility. According to Prof. Dr. Henry Schäfer of the University of Stuttgart, many enterprises point to the strict legal standards in Germany. “Let foreign enterprises come up to our standards first,” they scoff, and dismiss CSR as a short-lived management fancy.
What these enterprises fail to see, however, is that a positive public image can boost their value enormously. Abroad, executives are making sustainability issues their own in increasing numbers, as a means to drive shareholder value. Rating agencies – whatever one might think of them, considerable differences in quality abound – prepare rankings based on up to 200 individual environmental and social criteria. “An environmental and social performance that is reactive and only complies with requirements imposed by law is … not enough,” and many enterprises fail to gain a position in a new field that in fact opens up the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.
It was in particular the statements concerning Corporate Volunteering that were an eye-opener for me: almost 40% of all German employees do voluntary work, but only 19% of them feel that their employer supports them in their efforts.
38% of the employees surveyed stated that their company does not know about their employees’ voluntary activities after their regular job – and this even though more than half of the employees would be willing to represent their company, for instance by wearing t-shirts bearing the company logo.
As a betterplacian, of course, I marvel at how easy it would be to make this engagement, in whatever form it may take, visible for colleagues and customers. Just imagine: one click on the company page at betterplace will not only show you the full range of its social commitments, but also a map of the many initiatives that individual employees are volunteering for! And not only are these initiatives presented in a plausible and comprehensible way, employers and customers can also actively support them themselves.
Nice to have or essential?
A while ago, German companies considered environmental awareness to be a “nice to have” but not “essential” aspect. In the meantime, enterprises want to actively tackle environmental questions, and in fact they must. This means it is only a matter of time until corporate responsibility in the broader sense (including family-friendly company policies, transparent accounts of its sponsoring activities and the promotion of civil society as a whole) will also be viewed as a vital element of enterprise value.
Critics of the CSR trend claim that this is just a way of taking marketing a bit further, albeit using different means. This reflects the view that an act can only be taken to be a positive one if it is unselfish, says Dorothee Belz, a member of the management of Microsoft Germany. “But this zero-sum thinking fails to recognize … the actual mechanisms of CSR efforts, which are oriented towards the exchange of social values.”
CSR may be a buzzword currently all the rage in the business press and by consultancy firms; correctly interpreted, however, it offers an opportunity to enterprises to enter into a constructive dialogue with their employees and customers. Companies can use this communication channel to find out what really matters to their employees and customers, and are able target their social commitment accordingly and improve it.