Monday, December 19, 2016

Have a Socially Responsible Holiday 2016!

From Scrooge to Socially responsible shopper!

Thanks for receiving the Progress Strategies+ 2016 socially responsible companies list to consider during your shopping!  Like me, you may have just started shopping.  Good luck!  As with last year, I give you the gift of sharing some companies that I support who are examples of matching the bottom-line with socially responsible practices. 

Before I share, allow me to give a confession:  I finally got into the commercial Christmas spirit!  Last week I stood in the middle of the mall for 15 minutes reading the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) annual reports of two major retailers to double-check their improvements in environmental stewardship, community giving and wage and benefits for workers----before making my few purchases.

Recently as I was downloading some iTunes songs from Apple, I looked into the company’s CSR practices.  I was already impressed by CEO Tim Cook’s step to hire Lisa Jackson---former head of the Environmental Protection Agency---to run point on environmental stewardship and social initiatives. 

Apple has been leading in green energy.  All most all of their U.S. production and 87% of their Global production is powered by renewable energy.  They are so focused on this area that when they were challenged by some with the presumption that such focus was not good for business, Mr. Cook responded by stating “we do a lot of things for reasons besides the profit motive” while recommending that any stock holders who thought differently should sell. 

Wow!  While there is still room for improvement, I proceeded to get my songs from Chance The Rapper and Elaine Elias. Keep it coming Apple.

CSR is a great glue driving free market relationships

I am proudly in the number of socially responsible conscious consumers who find it very important to spend or invest in companies that have values, policies and business practices that benefit society----from environmental and charitable giving to ethical labor practices.  Such CSR demonstrations impact not only how we value the merging of profit and good behavior, but those activities also define our ethical free market interactions between businesses, customers, consumers, entrepreneurs and employees. 

For instance, when I buy North Face (I need new gloves---anyone!) outdoor products for quality and durability, I know that my dollars are being used to increase the company’s improvements of the people aspect of the Triple Bottom Line.  North Face has been focused on reducing their water footprint or usage and other ecological activities to meet environmental standards.  The support by all North Face’s customers keeps the company accountable to these goals.

They are also making improvements in their global compliance areas such as fair wages and benefits, women’s rights, anti-discrimination and respecting the right to free association and collective bargaining in the workplace.  Plus, I feel a bit warmer (emotionally) knowing that the company respects ethical treatment of animals as much as people.  Evidence of this is that one of my Down filled vests meets the Responsible Down Standard to prevent practices of live-feather plucking and other humane treatment of animals.

I shared this important factor with a local company recently.  As I discussed the CSR and inclusion services that Progress Strategies+ could provide them, “all businesses must remain attentive to the many potential customers that are driven by the CSR practices.  Within every demographic are untapped and sometimes unrealized customers who want companies to do more than just make money.”

Take the Reputation Institute’s survey, conducted for Forbes Magazine, to study 47,000 consumers that ranked the reputations of multinational companies.  The study researched how consumers prioritized the importance of corporate reputation factors such as CSR and corporate citizenship---and how those factors drive their perceptions of a company’s products, goods and services.

The study found that 42% of how people feel about a company is based on the firm’s CSR practices.  Those consumers were asked to give evaluations on questions such as “Is the company a good corporate citizen---supporting good causes and the environment?  Is it a responsibility-run company---behaving ethically and being transparent? Is it an appealing place to work?”  The perceptions are correlated with consumer support.  Companies such as Microsoft, Google, Walt Disney and others in the Forbes The 10 Companies With The Best CSR Reputations also do pretty well with profitability.

The Progress Strategies+ List of Companies---for your list, too?

These following companies are not on that list because they are not multinationals.  However, I wanted to share a list of major companies that I support just in case you have not finished your holiday shopping.  I will do a local business version in the future.  For now, based on my personal values and Progress Strategies+ CSR Client Best Practices here are some companies to consider on your growing or shrinking shopping list:  

1.    SoapBoxSoaps:  This is a really nice company with good soaps----along with a good price ($3.99) to match their mission.  With each purchase of a bar of soap, a bar is given to programs assisting individuals and communities nationally and internationally that lack access, safe products, materials and resources for hygiene.  The company provides other supports to causes that address health and wellness.

There is a code on each soap wrapper that you can enter in the company’s website, allowing you to locate and learn about the program or initiative your donation helped.  For example, a purchasing-to-donation may support a program helping Ebola survivors receive psychological counseling support and education assistance in soap-making and small business skills.  Purchases also provide contributions of critical personal hygiene products to food banks given that federal food assistance funds cannot be used for non-food items.  Good soap supports good causes that the company is in partnership with from Miami to India.

2.    Patagonia:  Like North Face, this is a company that is easy to support.  They are solid with high quality and resilient outdoor gear for the suburbanite or skilled mountain climber.  Keep them on your shopping list.  I was fine coming into the cold from the yard one day with my vest (I love vests).  I got warmer and happier sitting down and watching NBC Nightly News story featuring another great aspect of Patagonia’s social responsibility. 

The evening feature highlighted the company’s 30-year initiative providing on-site child care for employees. Among the benefits of the program is allowing employees to stay connected with their children at times throughout the workday.  Another benefit is that it has led to 100 percent of women choosing to return to the workplace after childbirth.  Just when I thought that was enough, the news segment featured an employee who works for Patagonia-----spending time with his visiting mom who once worked there and had him at the day care center! 

3.    FairLife:  Okay, you are probably not going to buy someone milk for Christmas.  What about when you have your holiday party?  I picked up FairLife at a local store and appreciated the pledge and business model of producing good milk (chocolate has been my favorite) from cows who are well-fed and treated in a humane fashion of stress-free conditions within a closed processing system.  That system is one in which the production of crops, feeding of animals, processing, bottling and sell of the product can be traced back to the place it was made. 

Sometimes ethical standards get mixed up and misplaced among different dairies and places.  Such values are not surprising given that the founder was a former cow veterinarian.  A good milk next to Santa’s cookies.

4.    North Face:  See the above.  And if you have an extra Down filled vest in red or blue please let me know!

5.    Apple:  See the above.  Plus, I am keeping them on my list as Mr. Cook continues to help improve technology at public schools through a $100 million commitment to ConnectED and donations of iPads and Macs to schools---many of them with disadvantaged students of Hispanic, Black, Native American, Alaskan Native or Asian heritage.

I could name more but simply wanted to share good corporate citizens that I have regularly or recently supported.  If you have also engaged in conscious consumer shopping or are new to it, I truly thank you.  We need all of us in the market supporting companies as they connect money with mission to make positive social and environmental change.

A dip in the merriment for mission?

There is more to be done with our decisions and dollars!  According to Good.Must.Grow and the fourth annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index, there has been a small slip in the two-year climb in social responsibility among consumers.

Good.Must.Grow, a socially responsible marketing firm, polled thousands of Americans this year regarding their conscious consumer spending practices.  This year’s study found that 31 percent of Americans are planning to spend more with companies who are socially responsible, slightly down from 32 percent from last year.   

Additionally, 60 percent confirmed the importance of buying from socially responsible companies, down from 64 percent in 2015.  In addition, 64 percent reported making purchases from socially responsible companies, compared to 65 percent in 2015.  Some factors contributing to the small decrease could be prices of those products.  That is very understandable and I remain appreciative that while the practice of such spending dipped, the priority of it among people did not.

The spirit of socially responsible spending decisions in support of socially responsible companies cannot weaken.  Our communities, causes and ability to have companies help us meet social challenges depend on this spirit just as much as profit, investments and prosperity depend on it. 

It is in that spirit that I wish you a great holiday season full of progress for you, your work and our planet.  Happy shopping.

Eric K. Foster is principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm serving corporations, businesses and organizations.  Progress Strategies+ also specializes in four social responsibility client project areas----Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy and Grant Management.  Eric is a fan of outdoor vests.

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