If corporate social responsibility (CSR) is such a norm in the modern-day big business why do we still have so many major organisations trying to cover-up their real environmental impacts, whilst their employees disengage from a common goal of making our planet a safer and healthier home for us and the generations to come? Perhaps, national and international legislation on environmental standards isn’t the issue. Instead the problem is that too many companies publicise their CSR reports only to boost their reputation, the phenomenon so common that it required a completely a new term – “greenwash”. If you are a CSR professional, encourage your organisation to review these simple steps, developed by Cambridge Judge Business School, to ensure that greenwash acquisitions never come knocking on your door.
According to Cambridge research, when environmental problems occur, the best thing a CSR communications manager can do is to advise the board about facing up to the issues immediately and honestly, by sharing the problems with the media and the public.
People realise that companies aren’t perfect, and they understand that. The findings of the research are something to write down and stick to your desktop – any company is always benefiting from sharing their problems with the shareholders, customers and the public honestly and directly. This contradicts a general corporate belief, that a good CSR report can protect you from a situation where uncovered issues finally become public, resulting in a real negative long-term publicity.
Sharing your environmental CSR projects and achievements will advance your sales, investments and reputation, by attracting loyal customers and the best professionals. The word of warning: whatever you do, never ever exaggerate the impact of your environmental CSR initiatives. After all, everybody knows that a report is a kind of communication, not a true action. By making a PDF document or a pile of paper the only reason of your company’s CSR programmes, you not only undermine its value, but also invite investigators to your offices.
Remember that a communications strategy does not equal real action. If during your planning session you only worry about the things to mention in your annual report, you are forgetting about the most important part – a real call to action for your employees. Without action there is no strategy, only communications.
By improving the actions in the company, you are actually making it easier to compile a decent legitimate report. There are almost no large companies left without a some kind of a CSR strategy, but only the ones that actually want to go greener make to the top, by commitment to improve environmental performance and not to ‘just shuffle numbers around and write something’.
So after all, a CSR comms manager holds the cards to say to the managers of various departments that a positive message can only come from real results, if you see that their devisions aren’t really on board, please do everybody a favour and tell them that their inadequate actions will be in the report, not a fabricated positive communication.
What kind of list of descriptions comes to mind when you think of a major media outlet dfinding out about your insufficient CSR reports? Probaly the words are not the ones we could publish on SBT. The thing is, majority of your conflicts with the media and PR downturns come from your fear and unwillingness to effectively engage with the media when things go wrong. It is a common false knowledge that the media is only interested in sharing bad news.
In 2012, researchers studied environmental CSR communication practices at 251 large corporations in Europe through exhaustive interviews with their communications managers. They found that that many theories about CSR communications risks are overstated, and that companies that “communicate honestly about their activities have little to fear”.
Starting today try to engage with the media proactively in order to learn which media channels work best for your company’s particular messages, from mainstream papers and magazines to social media pages.
Since the beginning of a so-called ‘knowledge economy’ in the late twentyeth centery most people have become ever more cynical about the environmental claims made by corporations. If you believe that not many people among the general population are interested, involved or even informed about the value of environmental CSR activities you couldn’t be more wrong. The knowledge about this kind of initiatives has been growing since the 1970s. Now more and more people will look into company’s evnironmental backround and research its credentials before they subsribe to their services or send their CV through. And investors, of course, will ask for an independent evaluation before putting their money into your pipelinse.
If you think that by stating that you work for the greenest company in the world you are making a drastic mistake – because people will look into this, and then you will be facing a storm somewhere on Readit, similar to the one on Avery case. Just think about the impact on BP of their major disasters like the Prudhoe Bay oil spill in Alaska (2006) and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe (2010). Apart from the actual environmental issues BP’s image got hit due to the fact that the company was PR-ing its environmental friendliness in every possible media channel.
Jess has spent years travelling the world full-time. Nothing else comes close to the reaches of this emotive activity...