Corporate Social Impact: Integrated CSR & Full Spectrum Responsibility

Every year, Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee and donut store chain, invests millions of dollars into children’s hockey and soccer programs across Canada. Hundreds of thousands of uniforms are paid for by the company, and emblazoned across the back with the company’s ‘Timbits’ logo. And every Saturday morning, hundreds of thousands of kids take to the local soccer field, or the local ice rink, to play in organized sports leagues—something that their families may not have been able to afford, were it not for Tim Hortons’ sponsorship.

The personal, social and physical value of team sports for kids has been widely documented in academic journals, and is abundantly clear to millions of parents around the world. So Tim Hortons’ program makes a significant and valuable contribution to communities.

Still, cynics might cry foul: Aren’t they just creating little billboards to run around on the field promoting their brand? That may be true, but the benefits remain undeniable. The community goodwill is immense, the social value is significant, and yes, it’s got a strong marketing value as well.

How can CSR be integrated with corporate strategy?

Tim Hortons is one of Canada’s most loved and trusted brands. The company’s management takes that reputation very seriously, rightly viewing it as a significant asset. With the Timbits program, they’ve developed a campaign that supports and enhances this trust, while also delivering a measurable social impact in the very communities their stores serve.

What’s particularly striking here, of course, is the direct alignment with Tim Hortons’ marketing: Kids get sports, parents stand on the sidelines thinking about Tim Hortons’ coffee, and families get together after the game at the nearest ‘Tim’s.’ There’s a marketing calculus at play that’s in this sense fairly traditional. But there’s also a broader social impact calculus here: Healthy kids make for healthier families and by extension stronger communities. In both the marketing and social impact frames, this is a scalable, measurable program.

The challenges for Tim Horton’s are twofold: The company remains open to accusations of ‘greenwashing’—or manipulating a marketing spend to curry favour in community goodwill. There’s also potential friction as corporate goals evolve, and potentially drift away from the alignment with the Timbits program’s goals. (Tim Horton’s was recently acquired by a large American firm, and so this may be a real challenge.)

How can CSR leaders defend their programs from erosion when corporate goals shift?

One of the most resonant cases of social responsibility in the business community is the case study of Ben & Jerry’s. The celerbrated ice cream maker chose to focus on the root causes of social challenges, which led them to consider factors like economic power, social justice, and organic ingredients in their products. From day one, they looked at their supply chain as a community of partners.

One supplier is the Greyston Bakery organization, which claims to “bake brownies, so that they can hire people”—as opposed to hiring people to bake brownies. In short, they’re an employment engine that supports barriered employees in poor neighbourhoods of New York. They needed a venue to sell their brownies in large quantities. When Ben & Jerry’s caught wind of this great social enterprise, they decided to develop a Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream, made with (you guessed it!) Greyston brownies.

This is but one example of using the Ben & Jerry’s supply chain to drive social impact. Both parties and the community around Greyston Bakery all benefit from the exchange—so the value is generative. It’s bigger than a financial transaction.

Over the years, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield earned a reputation as ardent activists on numerous social change issues in America. When they finally sold their business to Unilever, they embedded the social values of the company’s governance into an independent social mission Board whose role is to preserve and expand Ben & Jerry’s social mission, brand integrity and product quality.

>There’s an inherent activism (or at the very least a focus on ambitious social progress) in full spectrum CSR, like that seen in the Ben & Jerry’s case. This can result in brands positioning themselves too far ‘ahead of the curve.’ But when the social values are integrated with corporate strategy and planning, they become a value driver.

How can organizations move from cause marketing to integrated and full spectrum CSR?

When strong cause marketing campaigns gain momentum, they can rally support across the organization. In some cases, this can catapult them into conversations during strategic and business planning. The opportunity to blend community engagement, social impact and business strategy is the best means to leading CSR into the heart of business planning.

Marketing and public relations tends to be one strong motivating force, so CSR professionals should work to align their goals with the company’s brand and advertising programs.

Increasingly, talent engagement and retention are also key drivers of social responsibility programs. A scan of the ‘best companies to work for’ lists is similar to a scan of the list of ‘most socially responsible’ businesses: These two factors are connected. Today’s young and emerging leaders are committed to work that serves the wider community. Any company that wants to attract the millennial demographic will do well to develop their CSR programs.

Truly responsible corporations deliver financial profitability to be sure, but they also take responsibility for developing the economy from which they draw their profits. They exemplify a transparent approach to governance that makes it possible for outside parties to help them do even better. They bake integrity into their products (in Ben & Jerry’s case, this is quite literal), rather than simply giving away a portion of their profits. And they look hard at their environmental impact, setting industry benchmarks, and seeking constant improvement.