Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

As you probably know by now, WhyWhisper is focused on supporting organizations and companies that care about making a positive social or environmental impact.

Recently, we’ve been thinking about how impactful different companies’ programs are. Are they really making a difference, or are they just there for PR purposes?

While discussing a friend’s employer’s CSR strategy recently, she said that they "provide a discount on a gym membership and incentivize us to challenge ourselves in different ways with the reward of company shout outs and prizes. It's just enough for them to check off the social responsibility box before going public."

This got us thinking. How many companies are just “checking off the box” when it comes to social responsibility, and how many are actually making an impact?

To give you a sense as to what we mean, we took a look at one of the most comprehensive CSR strategies we’ve seen to date: Starbucks. Here’s what they’re doing, and why it works:

Who are they?

As most of us know, Starbucks is an international coffee company, with over 20,000 stores in over 60 countries to date. But just five years ago, the company was doing poorly. This was partially as a result of the financial crisis and internal restructuring; but, generally, the company’s future was “bleak.” As a result of this slump, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz launched a “Transformation Agenda,” aimed at investing in the company’s people. The series of initiatives launched under the agenda were centered on people, the environment, and the community. As a result of these initiatives, which we’ll dive into in a minute, Starbucks recovered financially, and even exceeded its prior revenue, by 2013. 

What are Starbucks’ CSR initiatives?

Starbucks’ social responsibility strategy is based on three pillars: Community, Ethical Sourcing, and the Environment.  Here’s what the company does to have a positive impact in each of those areas:

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

To have a positive impact on the communities it works with and in, Starbucks develops community stores that partner with local nonprofits. The nonprofits these stores work with offer services aimed to meet the needs of the communities they’re located in. Starbucks in turn donates $0.05 to $0.15 per transaction to the nonprofit partner. You can find a list of these community stores here. Starbucks has pledged to hire at least 10,000 veterans and military by 2018, and focuses on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The company also provides training opportunities for youth in their communities, and has even developed the Starbucks Foundation, a 501c3 whose goal is to strengthen those communities further. These are just a few of their many community-centric initiatives.

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

The second pillar, Ethical Sourcing, dictates the way that Starbucks purchases its products. The company is committed to ensuring that their coffee, tea, cocoa, and manufactured goods are responsibly and ethically produced and purchased. They say their “success is linked to the success of the farmers and suppliers who grow and produce [their] products,” and so they only purchase those products from farms and manufacturers that adhere to a certain standard of ethical treatment.

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

Starbucks refers to the planet as their “most important business partner,” and takes a comprehensive approach to reducing their environmental impact. To do this, they build LEED certified stores, are committed to recycling and conserving water and energy, and pursue strategies that address climate change on a global level. Generally, Starbucks tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible in every aspect of their operations.

Why is it working?

First and foremost, Starbucks decided to invest in its people and the communities they work with. When a company puts people first, and focuses on making positive changes for the communities they work with and serve, consumers notice. In fact, studies show that when companies support social or environmental issues, 93% of consumers have a more positive image of that company. Starbucks’ strategy and resultant outcomes are proof positive of that study. Plus, when companies like invest in their people, they see less turnover, and employees become advocates of the company as well.

What’s more, each year, Starbucks publishes a Global Responsibility Report (in 9 different languages!), that shares data highlighting the impact they’ve had over the past year. They use this data to inform the coming year’s strategy, so as to ensure their programs are as effective as possible. Rather than simply coming up with a CSR strategy and blindly sticking to it, Starbucks takes the time to measure and evaluate its programs.

We’re not suggesting that your business’s social responsibility strategy should be on Starbucks’ level – not right off the bat, at least. But it’s not enough for businesses to do "just enough to check off the box". Thoughtful CSR programs aren’t just PR stunts or a show for investors, and the companies that are really succeeding are proof that these programs can be hugely impactful if implemented well.

Do you know of an awesome CSR program that you think is worth talking about? What about one you think could use some improvement? Share with us in the comments – we’re interested. 

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