Will corporations be successful in their citizen efforts to address critical social and environmental issues?

Part One – The Rise of the Corporate Citizen 
Part Two – What is Real Corporate Citizenship?
Part Three – Employee Volunteering – Is It Working?

The Rise of The Corporate Citizen: The Promise

As we noted in part one of this blog series, corporations are assuming a new role in today’s society. Historically, it has been religious groups, nonprofit organizations, and governments that have mobilized to address social and environmental issues. Now the corporations of the world are playing this role.


Corporations Want to Make the World Better

Corporate citizenship continues to grow as a key element of today’s business strategy. Granted, the idea of corporations acting as good citizens has been around since the 1950‘s. Yet developments in the economic, technological and geopolitical landscape of the past couple decades have significantly increased the scale and power of the private sector. As the influence of corporations grow, so do the expectations of stakeholders.

Non-financial performance has quickly become an important, if not expected, piece of the corporate annual report. Governments, non-governmental organizations, investors and consumers are demanding leadership in the management of social and environmental issues related to the company’s sourcing, supply chain, production and sales.

Corporations not only have the unique opportunity to address social and environmental concerns, the public has given them a mandate to do so.

Water is Critical to a Better World

The list of social and environmental ills that clamor for attention is seemingly endless. It is likely however, that there is widespread consensus on the issue that is number one on the list: water.

According to Water.org, the nonprofit Matt Damon helped to establish, almost a billion people around the world lack access to safe water. That means more than 3.5 million people will die from water-related diseases. Not even war has seen the consistent killing of so high a number of people. The situation is so critical that in October of 2010 “the main United Nations body dealing with human rights has affirmed that the right to water and sanitation is contained in existing human rights treaties, and that States have the primary responsibility to ensure the full realisation of this and all other basic human rights.”

What Role Can Companies Play?

Companies like PepsiCo use water to make their products – a lot of water. In 2001 PepsiCo used 7.1 litres of water to make just one litre of Pepsi. Water is obviously a big expense for PepsiCo. Decreasing the amount of water it takes to produce a bottle of Pepsi would be a huge benefit to the company’s bottom line. Over the past decade, the company has managed to dramatically reduce water usage – to as little as 2.4 litres by 2010.

As a corporate citizen PepsiCo’s expertise could be said to be essential to addressing the global water crises. But knowing a lot about water is one thing; using that knowledge to help make the world better is another. In an effort to contribute to a solution on a global scale PepsiCo joined the United Nations’ CEO Water Mandate, “a unique public-private initiative designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices.”

Is PepsiCo Acting? Or Just Talking?

By joining the CEO Water Mandate, PepsiCo has agreed that “they have a responsibility to make water-resources management a priority, and to work with governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders to address this global water challenge.” More specifically, the company has gone on record and pledged to provide safe water to 3 million people in the developing world by 2015.

Admittedly, while important, signing documents and making public declarations of intention alone will not solve the water crises. Even the UN’s declaration that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right probably matters very little to small villages in Ghana.

In order to be responsible corporate citizens companies have to take real action.

This past year, PepsiCo announced a new idea based on the tradition of the US Peace Corps called PepsiCorps. Within a matter of months, 168 applications came in from employees around the world willing to participate in the month-long pilot taking place in Ghana this past October. The eight employees chosen for the team came from Vietnam, US, Turkey, Canada, and Spain representing various PepsiCo business units, functions and company locations.

The team traveled to Southern Ketu, on the coast of Ghana. The team’s objective was “to equip district leaders, local chiefs, and the community with the means and business tools” to ensure access to clean and safe drinking water.

Real Corporate Citizenship

The success of company’s corporate citizenship program ultimately depends on people. To be precise, it depends on employees. The same could be said of the Peace Corps. The success of the program depended on individual citizens traveling abroad, building relationships, and doing the work that needed to be done. Therefore, in order to gain credible insight to the PepsiCorps program we need to look beyond the strategies, UN initiatives, and press releases. We need to hear from the employees themselves. What did they see? What did they experience? What did they do? What’s different?

Is the world better because eight PepsiCo employees spent a month in Ghana?

Next time we’ll take a closer look at the PepsiCo team and the specifics of the project and try to begin to answer that question.

Realized Worth works with major corporations to launch high impact employee volunteer programs. We focus specifically on the challenge of employee engagement. Call us to chat: 317.371.4435.

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