by Kate Vandeveld

Last week, we talked about Starbucks, a company that wasn’t initially developed as a social enterprise, but that has effectively integrated social impact into its business model. Their strategy for external impact is thoughtful and comprehensive, and they actively invest in their employees. Because of this, the results of their multi-faceted strategy is positive for all involved. 

On the flipside, as you may know, Volkswagen is currently in the midst of a CSR-related scandal.  This September, the German car company admitted to cheating in emissions tests in the U.S. by installing devices in their engines that detected when they were being tested, and changing their performance to alter results. The company did this in order to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel emissions standards. As a result of their false reporting, Volkswagen was viewed as reputable when it came to CSR. While we can’t call it merely a PR stunt, the company’s desire to be seen as environmentally responsible likely played into its decision to cheat the system, which is exactly the opposite of the point of CSR.

The Volkswagen situation brings up a question of authenticity when it comes to social and environmental responsibility. What does it mean for a company to be authentic when it comes to impact? Here’s what we think:

They make it part of their mission

One major difference between a truly socially conscious company and one that is in it for the positive PR, is whether or not their strategy is an integral part of their mission, or merely an addendum, an afterthought. Whether or not a company is socially conscious from the start, or chooses to implement CSR programs down the line, it’s important to pay attention to how entrenched they seem to be in their impact. Companies that are really impactful don’t just implement a program that allows them to meet a certain social or environmental goal, they make it a part of their operations and integrate it into their mission.

They report on their successes and failures

When implementing strategic changes in any capacity, you’re bound to experience failures or missteps along the way. And generally, talking about it is the last thing you want to do when a new program or strategy isn’t as successful as you hoped it would be. But in this case, it can be a good thing. Reporting on your successes as well as your failures when it comes to CSR strategy shows that you’re paying attention, and that you care about the efficacy of your programming and making a real impact. And perhaps the most important thing, as evidenced by the Volkswagen fiasco, is that you stay honest in your reporting. Social change is difficult to enact, and your earnest effort to be impactful is what truly matters.

They evolve their efforts over time

Deciding to integrate CSR programming into your business model is only the first step; contributing to positive social or environmental change is an evolutionary process.

To start, it might take some time for a company to hone in on which strengths they should focus on in order to be as impactful as possible. And even if you’re clear about how you want to focus our efforts, you’ll want to evolve as time goes on. When you set clear goals, and then report on and analyze your results, you can use that information to continue to change and develop your approach and strategy to be more effective.


Do you know of a company whose CSR strategy has been particularly effective, or one who you think could be impactful with some support? Share with us – we want to learn about them! Here’s how: