Let’s rebuild Australia through CSR & Social Good (Part 3)


Increasing CSR investment and forging social sector partnerships in a societal and economic crisis, isn’t just the right thing to do, but the smart thing.  CSR has been evolving since the 80’s (read blog 1 for the evolution of CSR) and we are now at the critical point where Corporate Social Responsibility must evolve into a Corporate Social Response – action not words.

Part 2 of my blog covered the first 3 (of 5) reasons to increase CSR & Social Good right now, with statistics to back it up. This 3rd and final part blog details the final 2 (of 5) reasons to embrace CSR, a fabulous case study on Australian success story Cotton On, and an awesome free infographic that summarises all 5 benefits – download here.

4. Resonate with consumers through uplifting stories

“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.” ~ Richard Branson

For many Australians, isolation has caused them to reflect on what’s important in life. Research is emerging[1] that indicates 65% of Australians believe the pandemic is the reset we needed to re-evaluate how we are living.  The chatter on social media suggests that this re-evaluation is not just on a personal level, but considering the kind of society we want to live in.  People who have never experienced unemployment or homelessness, insecurity and anxiety – will experience it. My prediction is that the small army of socially conscious changemakers will become a vast movement. Social issues are high on the agenda, and companies not interested in the conversation will be left behind.

Consumers want to see action and they are crying out for positive stories that give them hope. CSR & Social Good stories do both. It’s a great way to differentiate a company or brand, especially through social media, as Social Good stories cut through all the noise and reach into the heart of the consumer, aligning with their values.

Glen 20 did a brilliant job of differentiating their brand at the start of the pandemic by partnering with Meals on Wheels and having this be their primary campaign[2].

As a former PR consultant, I know that when times are tough, advertising is often reduced. But you must keep communicating. Perhaps it’s time to shift from trying to sell products and services and instead sell an inspiring idea, one of co-operation, of unity, of business and society coming together to rebuild Australia.

5. Improved performance and cost savings

Whilst there are some companies that are booming during COVID (food delivery and platforms that connect people for example), for many budgets will tighten, funding priorities will shift, and it may appear counter-intuitive to consider investing in CSR.

However, for public companies, there’s growing evidence that CSR & Social Good translates into improved economic performance, plus having a positive impact on a company’s market value and stock price.  So, if you’re one of those companies that’s seeking investment to either pivot for the new normal or increase production for new customer wants and needs, having a good solid CSR program can help.

75% of professional investors evaluate a company’s CSR before investing[3] and the same amount check sustainability management, to mitigate risk in an increasingly disrupted market.

Sustainable investment now dominates the stock market, with almost $60 trillion managed by more than 1,300 investment firms who have signed onto the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. Respected analysts from Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs agree that sustainability leaders outperform companies that are slow to embrace CSR. Investors are more drawn to stocks associated with strong, corporate citizenship, reduced exposure to climate risks and public backlash.

Early reports are showing that in the current market meltdown, sustainable funds are faring better[4]. McKinsey are predicting that there will be a spotlight on governance, with investors scrutinising dividends, share buyback and executive pay after the immediate crisis is over.

CSR can also reduce costs, as waste is minimised. In 2019, General Mills reported a $4.8M saving whilst reducing its carbon footprint by 6,000 metric tons by implementing over 60 energy reduction projects. A study[5] of 152 companies implementing sustainability strategies found that 27% benefited from $5M in sales of recycled products.

People, Planet and Profit

The emergence of Triple Bottom Line conveyed a fundamental belief that companies should be responsible for more than just delivering Profits to shareholders; they also have a responsibility to care for People and Planet. I don’t know how the world will look when we finally get to the ‘other side of covid’, but there is one thing of which I’m certain.

Australians have been reflecting on what’s important to them, and it’s their friends, family and colleagues (People).  Restrictions have given them a renewed sense of appreciation for our spectacular environment and nature (Planet).  Consumers are looking for hope and they’re looking for leadership, and will reward those organisations that demonstrate both.  Companies that revert to a ‘profit-focused business as usual’ mode will be seen as out of touch and irrelevant.

Shift your focus to People and Planet, then consumers, investors, suppliers and employees will support you through this recession. Then, Profit will look after itself.

Let’s look at a shining Australian example of a company that walks the talk when it comes to CSR & Social Good.

Cotton On

A brilliant example of a company that has CSR & Social Good in its DNA is Australian private company Cotton On.

In 1988, 18-year-old Nigel Austin started selling denim jackets from his car at a Geelong market. Today, his company has over 1,400 stores across 19 countries, encompassing 7 well-known brands.

The culture of Cotton On embraces an unwavering pursuit to meet customer demand – which includes providing ethical and sustainably-sourced fashion.

Cotton On’s CSR commitment is woven into every aspect of its business. The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) supports cotton farmers, stewarding improved global standards throughout the supply chain, from farm gate to retail store. Cotton On’s goal is 100% sustainable cotton by 2021.

The Cotton On Foundation started in 2007, and has raised over $100M, empowering youth globally through quality education with projects in Uganda, South Africa, Thailand and Australia. The statistics are impressive – 13 schools built, 17 million meals served to students, plus 95 water tanks installed, giving 4 million litres of clean water. 25,000 vaccinations given, and 16,000 kids in quality education.

Local non-profits are also supported, including Carrie Bickmore’s Beanies for Brain Cancer in Australia and the Mental Health Foundation in New Zealand.

In 2019, Cotton On partnered with CARE Australia to deliver the Empowering Women Workers in Bangladesh program. The partnership, an industry first, advances female workers in the supply chain by developing their life and leadership skills.

One of the most significant initiatives is the ’14 Rules to Trade’ agreement, which requires all suppliers to adhere to rules around environmental management, child and forced labour, discrimination, safety, minimum wage, use of raw materials and factory audits.

It’s clear that Nigel established a very successful formula in embedding CSR & Social Good into the fabric of his business since day one, and it’s proved to be exceptionally good for business.

Bricks & mortar retail has been severely impacted by the crisis, but I predict that it’s companies like Cotton On – with their entrepreneurial spirit, ability to fast-pivot, as well as an undeniable commitment to Planet and People – who will continue to enjoy ongoing customer loyalty throughout the years ahead.

Our gift to you…

Hailey’s 2019 e-book ‘Talking the Walk®2 detailing a new model of communication and over 80+ statistics on the conscious consumer movement, is available free to all readers until 11 September https://www.cavill.com.au/product/talking-the-walk2-ebook/and type in 25YEARGIFT upon purchase.

[1] The Lab and Nature, 20 July 2020

[2] Glen 20 and Meals on Wheels mumbrella article

[3] Responsible Investment Association Trend Report 2016

[4] UBS

[5] Pure strategies, 2015

About Hailey

As Fearless Leader of Cavill + Co, Hailey has advised blue-chip companies and brands on CSR & Social Good for over 20 years. She’s built over 50 cause partnerships for clients including Disney Australia, Vodafone Foundation, Mondelez Australia and SEEK. She also teaches non-profits how to partner with corporates through online training program, BePartnerReady.com®

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