Whenever I come across anything about CSR in any of its forms on the Internet (which remains to be my primary source of news), I usually get mixed feelings. On the one hand, I get angels singing in my head that something nice has been done. On the other hand, I also think that some of the efforts I read on could be more, for lack of a better term, holistic in themselves – such as better sustainability or pure-of-heart motivation (companies and more importantly individuals who sincerely want to do something for the common good and devote the efforts of their projects to such, not merely as a unit of such).
What comes to my mind when I write this is BCYF’s 1st Philippine Conference on Research in CSR in 2011, where Dr. Wayne Visser, the keynote speaker and Europe’s leading CSR expert, showed the results of his 40-country study on CSR and the concepts of CSR 1.0 (traditional philanthropy) and 2.0 (where an organization does its social work with a values-based approach because of its desire for the common good, and not for its own benefit). Meaning, there is a big potential for CSR efforts to improve across firms round the world.
This was what I felt upon reading last weekend an article written last month, describing the Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility. It was a study of more than 30,000 Internet users across about 60 countries around the world in February to March 2014; due to its sample population, Nielsen admitted had the possibility of skewing the findings in favor of those who regularly accessed the Internet, or the youth and/or affluent in the cases of developing countries. The study aimed to discover how passionate consumers are for sustainable practices while shopping, which consumer segments most support ecological or other socially responsible efforts, and which social issues or causes were most attractive.
It made me proud to be Filipino that, according to an article about the survey results written in Good News Pilipinas just two weeks ago, the survey showed that we have the most consumers who are willing to pay a premium for good and services by companies committed to positive social and environmental impact – at 79%, beating Vietnam’s 73% and Thailand’s 71% (the global percentage being 55%). Furthermore, in the past six months (i.e. August 2013 to February 2014), 76% of Filipinos bought at least one product or service due to its manufacturer’s commitment to positive social and environmental impact – again the highest figure (Vietnam, who ranked second-highest in Asia-Pacific and third globally, had just 68%; the global percentage was just 52%). Also, we once again topped the charts in checking the label, or packaging, for social and environmental impact commitment when considering purchase – again, the global percentage was 52%.
The survey also found that this mentality was most evident in the Asia-Pacific – where, according to Mr. Thomas Thomas, CSR expert of the Singaporean parliament and keynote speaker for BCYF’s 2nd Philippine Conference on Research in CSR, CSR in Asia is not new, as social responsibility as a concept is already a staple of Asian cultures. Furthermore, Europe and North America had the lowest figures across the three questions – with Africa-Middle East and Latin America ranking slightly lower than Asia-Pacific but significantly higher than Europe and North America.
However, reading about the findings and supporting research done by Nielsen for the study made me think: what is the quality of the social responsibility of these companies that the consumers supported? To help corroborate the findings, Nielsen interviewed 20 brands across 9 countries that “either included sustainability claims on packaging or actively promoted their sustainability actions through marketing efforts“.
I slightly got taken aback on this sentence. Brands including sustainability claims on packaging? Companies using marketing to promote their sustainability? Wasn’t that more akin to brand management – traditional corporate social responsibility? Were at least some of these companies truly pursuing the common good through their business models and actions, or only building façades to make themselves look good and cash in on their consumers’ purchasing actions? Or somewhere in between, where business owners acknowledge the need for social responsibility but do not really realign all of the principles of their companies for the social good?
If the first finding in the survey mentions consumers buying from brands that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, what does the word “committed” mean? Is it in the raison d’être of said company? Or a mere addendum to its existing model?
This study was performed by a company based in America only earlier this year. Dr. Visser gave his presentation almost three years ago. There is still, therefore, a gap in the world understanding of CSR that can still be filled and transformed into authentic CSR that seeks to address a social issue through business, and not the other way around.
But at the same time, BCYF preaches human value, that CSR should start with the self, with personal social responsibility. At least in this aspect, I salute the consumers who answered the survey. Expressly from a consumer’s point of view, buying a product from a socially responsible firm – whether or not it is only part of reputation management or in the company’s lifeblood itself – would still be more responsible than buying a product that is not. At least from their perspective, they are living their CSR by being more conscious about what they consume – and that’s already a step forward.
This is why I think the field of CSR research is ripe for growth and more prominence. If we are to truly achieve social change, research would be a key in gradually changing the mindsets of more people into living out their own social responsibility commitments. More research means more learnings and realizations that can be turned into layman’s words of wisdom, and this could create an improvement in consumer behavior to buy goods and services from truly, authentic, socially responsible companies that don’t necessarily blatantly advertise their efforts to look good, but show it in the very way they do business.