Changing for good: Are companies starting to strategise corporate responsibility?

Where a company’s social responsibilities lie is becoming increasingly strategy-based rather than emotionally motivated.

The BNZ, a leader in corporate responsibility with its Closed for Good initiative, withdrew its sponsorship of the Kiwis for Kiwi in favour of focusing on helping New Zealanders manage their money better, and supporting families through its Plunket scheme. 

For this year’s Closed for Good campaign, the project scope includes financial literacy education and workshops, in addition to the practical projects that traditionally benefit from the initiative.

The BNZ has made a significant contribution to the welfare in this country, and there’s little argument that its contribution of more than $12 million since its inception 1991 is an effort to be respected. 

The shift in focus is due to companies aligning their work, and with the tough times still around, companies are having to make the hard decisions – ethical or financial - on who or what to help.

Generally speaking, the corporate world down under was lagging behind the rest of the world in its responsibilities, as suggested in the 2014 State of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Australia and New Zealand Annual Review, the largest ongoing research study of corporate social responsibility capabilities and practices in Australia and New Zealand organisations.

However, the 2015 report looks a little more promising, with NZ at least keeping up with our Australian counterparts but having a greater focus on reducing their own environmental impacts, but less of a focus on global sustainability issues.

Doing good extends outside the company too, with companies keen to put their weight behind organisations supporting others, be it creature or mankind.

But some companies, such as the BNZ, are changing direction in order to align their own strategies and efforts with responsibilities on the social front.

“There is certainly a global trend towards more strategic decisions around corporate social responsibility and sponsorship arrangements, and how they relate to a business’s sustainability efforts,” says managing director of marketing services company Goodsense, Kath Dewar. 

“The two are quite closely inter-related.”

Instead of the left hand working without the right hand knowing what it’s doing, decisions are being made with a sense of strategy, says Dewar.

Those companies just starting out are lucky. In their newly-formed state they are at a huge advantage she says.

“Clean slate brands start with a perspective that they want to make money, but they also want to run a business that is better for nature and better for people.” 

We’re also living in very transparent times, she says.

“Ten years ago a company could produce a ‘feel good’ factor and really not be held accountable for it. But now we can publish in seconds to thousands of people for free. The public is a lot more educated.

“Companies need to look, evaluate and be a bit smarter about the relationships they have.”

One international example of this alignment is the Sainsbury’s ‘Be Happy’ initiative to address the declining number of bees in the UK. The fact that bees pollinate over 80% of food, and without bees there would be no business, Sainsbury’s set to educate the public and install bee ‘hotels’ in its stores.

Such positive international moves are starting to be noticed, and companies here in New Zealand are starting to make changes too, says Dewar.

“What we are going to see is companies moving away from viewing charitable action as a plaster to make them look greener or more socially responsible, to companies being more socially responsible to both people and the environment.

“The companies that don’t change will struggle over the long term.”

And for these companies, change will really be a good thing.