By Kathleen Ryan Mufson
October 15, 2009
Not too long ago, corporate responsibility was narrowly defined by community involvement and philanthropic programs. But today, companies need to understand that the business community is an increasingly interdependent environment with an unprecedented diversity of stakeholders and issues. For those seeking long term success, the spirit of corporate responsibility has grown to include strategic investments along a social, economic and environmental continuum.
Although it’s the synergy of all three elements that creates sustainability, environmental efforts are increasingly at the forefront of discussions today. For business leaders, simply “going green” is not enough. Establishing the environment as a significant focus of corporate responsibility strategy provides numerous benefits in building and solidifying a company’s reputation while creating a foundation for future growth.
Here are three reasons why environmental leadership matters to corporate citizenship: it helps a company garner a positive reputation, attract talent and drive innovation to be competitive in a changing marketplace
When it comes to the environment, if a firm wants to safeguard its reputation, increase positive perceptions and minimize risk, abiding by or exceeding environmental laws and regulations are imperatives. Today, shareholder activists, NGOs and the media have greater access to information on a company’s environmental actions and are applying increased pressure on corporations to operate in a manner that benefits the environment.
One example includes the outcry from environmentalists in 2000-2001 when British Petroleum changed its name to Beyond Petroleum. For BP, the name change signified a commitment to developing alternative sources of power like wind and solar, but external stakeholders demanded a clear timeline for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Companies need to be certain that their words match their actions or risk fighting a PR battle on many fronts.
Increased communications that focus on environmental practices with measurable objectives can help build and strengthen relationships with external constituencies. Increased access to key contacts, information on environmental trends, and partnership opportunities are just a few benefits that organizations can enjoy by maintaining relationships with these key stakeholders.
A good corporate reputation also benefits an organization in attracting and retaining top-level talent. Employees who can identify and empathize with a corporation’s values are more likely to commit to work toward a common goal or set of objectives in the short term, and stay with a company for the long term. Similarly, top level talent increasingly asks how a business achieves success, not just bottom line results. Recruiting strategies to attract these workers now require greater communication on socially responsible and environmental activities.
Competitive Business Model
Attracting the right level of talent to lead environmental growth strategies is a concern for most businesses. In anticipation of more stringent regulations, a worldwide climate agreement, and growing expectations from many stakeholders, organizations need to address their environmental strategies, goals and communications as an integral part of their corporate responsibility.
For some, a marketplace that places a cap on carbon creates limitations, while for others it represents opportunity. Moving beyond compliance to a model of environmental leadership means companies will innovate, streamline their processes and earn a competitive edge. The environmental issues of today have definitely redefined corporate social responsibility. It is now the right thing to do and the smart thing to do for your business.
Kathleen Ryan Mufson is, director, Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy, for Pitney Bowes. She can be reached at [email protected].