Telling The Story of Corporate Social Responsibility

Companies have to start telling the story of corporate social responsibility. People have to be able to share stories about CSR. That’s how ideas become actions, and ideologies become movements.

I came across two blog posts today that made insightful and accurate assessments of CSR reporting. I tend to defer to the wisdom of the ever prolific @elainecohen on the matter of CSR reporting (and I strongly suggest you follow her blog if you want to learn everything there is to know about CSR reports and Chunky Monkey ice cream – don’t ask). Yet I thought both of these blogs made some excellent observations which coincide with recent developments in my own life (we’re pretty excited about this recent announcement).

Dr. Michael Groves, writing for accountancyage.com notes that ‘The ever-growing trend for companies to produce annual reports on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability record, has created more questions than it answers.’ According to Groves, CSR reports are evolving, becoming more sophisticated utilizing standards of reporting that are both voluntary and statutory.

However, Groves believes that ‘the reports have in many ways become an expensive exercise in document creation and consultancy-speak. In other words, a communication tool that tries to please everyone and consequently pleases no one. If you want any proof of this, even the investment analysts find them boring!’

Ashley Jablow writes a blog that I follow on a regular basis: www.thechangebase.com. Today she also tackled the topic of CSR reporting having just spent the past four months of her MBA program examining best practices in CSR reporting. She was a bit surprised at her findings, and offers the following suggestions:

“A successful CSR report doesn’t just tell impact – it tells stories.”

Having made a number of recommendations on “how to present content and provide context in ways that are engaging, interactive and customized for stakeholders” one of the executives had a question. “Why does it matter if we don’t tell people about what we do in sustainability. Isn’t it good enough that we do something at all?”

Ashley and her team answered withan emphatic ‘No’. It’s not enough to just do something.

“A fear of greenwashing is not an excuse to stopyou from telling your sustainability story!”

Ashley believes, along with others, “that this concern about greenwashing has gone too far. In fact in some cases, greenwashing worries are actually holding companies back from saying anything at all about sustainability – mainly for fear that someone, somewhere will find something to criticize.

“By not focusing on the manner in which it told its sustainability story, our client company had inadvertently left very real value on the table.”

According to Ashley, “that value was instead being captured by competitors who had done a tremendous job on both the reporting and storytelling fronts.”

Read Ashley’s full article here.

Dr. Michael Groves offers some suggestions on how to tell the stories of Corporate Social Responsibility:

Figure out how people want to hear the story

“The business must then decide what the best methods are of communicating with the many groups interested in its CSR record – be they customers, regulators, investors, employees, local communities or suppliers.”

Get creative and use multiple formats

“While it may be harder to do, I would venture to suggest that a combination of different communication methods would be most effective, be they web based (including social media tools), printed summaries, presentations, one-to-one meetings, debates, adverts, maps, graphs, exhibitions, postcards or tea towels.

Allow the storytelling to lead to genuine dialogue

“There is huge scope for businesses to be genuinely interesting in relation to CSR. If nothing else, it is about telling a story and responding to the resulting debate and questions. The digital world also allows the story to be told in real time, with video, blogging and graphics that show 
what is happening right now within the business and even across its supply chain.

Adopt social media or get left behind (that means lose your job)

“Adopting a greater level of CSR openness may be daunting to the “on message” communication control freaks out there, but I’m afraid they will just have to get used to it. In fact, they will either adapt or be trampled into the soil when future CEOs, CFOs and CIOs born into a social media-dominated world start to get their hands on businesses. It’s already happening, so come on you corporate suits, open yourselves up a little more.

Dr. Michael Groves, owner of Great Circle, has advised companies in the clean tech, clean energy and geographic information sectors on marketing, branding and commercialisation.

 

 

Ashley Parsons Jablow is a 2nd year MBA student, former nonprofit fundraiser and corporate philanthropy intern, and a motivated change-maker.

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