Corporate Social Responsibility – Is Canada leading or lagging?

Written by Banu Raghuraman (@banudesigns)

The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Endeavour.

As part of the pro bono week, while we urge individual Canadians to give back to the community, we also need to reflect on the role of corporations as key contributors to volunteerism and social change.The-Environment

In 2011, the non-profit organization Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) explored the irony of Canada being ranked number one for countries to do business in of all the G7 countries, despite the fact that Canadian publicly-traded companies ranked at the bottom of the list when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Such statistics beg the question, as a global business participant, is Canada leading or lagging?

Without a clear message from both government and civil society, Canadian businesses seem to be trailing behind their European counterparts that are far more focused on CSR, and who recognize that CSR needs to be a significant part of their daily business activities. At the moment, most Canadian companies view CSR strategies as “nice to have”, but certainly not as a necessity, and as such, are less inclined to invest resources and personnel towards developing CSR. This is a trend that must change, but to do so, greater public attention and dialogue must be focused on building a corporate culture of CSR.

One of the key motivating factors for a company to adopt a CSR strategy is if it affects its bottom line. In 2011, Jantzi-Sustainalytics, in conjunction with Maclean’s magazine, published the third annual Top 50 Socially Responsible Corporations. One key takeaway from the study was that Canadian businesses are not effectively capturing the market of sustainable-minded customers, and are potentially leaving money of the table from customers that would be more likely to support companies that promote CSR. For example, office supplies retailer Staples would potentially be able to attract and retain more customers if it were to offer recycled paper products, which would likely be attractive to environmentally-friendly companies and individual customers. This could affect as much as 79% of Staples existing customer base, according to an opinion poll by Hill and Knowlton.

Another way that companies can implement an effective CSR strategy is by working together with organizations that are helping a specific cause in the community. The CIBC Run for the Cure is a excellent example of the effectiveness of cause-base marketing. However, it is key to strike a balance in CSR marketing efforts. While businesses need to let their customers know they are committed to sustainable business practices, consumers can get wary of “green-washing” if the effort is overdone. These issues are also highlighted within the same opinion poll by Hill and Knowlton – where 81% of consumers believe that CSR is just a marketing gimmick, not a reflection of a company’s true sense of responsibility to the community.

In summary, there is an increasing need for Canadian companies to focus on CSR, which could be mutually beneficial to the company and the community they serve. But how do we put these issues on the corporate agenda, and what role do individual Canadians play in the corporate dialogue? We invite you to share your thoughts and comments below or @EndeavourVCN.

Follow Banu Raghuraman @banudesigns.

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