CSR and Sustainability Should Not Stand Alone

In my day-day interaction with my peers and employees at Campbell Soup, executives at other companies, investors and a range of people shaping the agenda in traditional and social media, the questions I’m asked over and over again about corporate social responsibility and sustainability always trend back to the concept of what these terms have to do with core business strategy.

Consider for a moment, if I were retained by your business as a consultant and together we identified specific areas for improvement that might include lowering costs of manufacture, increasing recruitment or retention rates, building brand awareness and increasing quality or spurring innovation. In each of the cases above, leading companies would follow a similar process to tackle these challenges and drive improvements. There is no difference in these examples from the concepts of CSR and sustainability. In fact the examples I used are synergistic and can be thought of as reinforcing tools in the same toolbox.

After building a CSR program over the course of eight to 10 years at Intel Corp., I came to Campbell Soup convinced that with the right integration mind-set and strategic focus, I could significantly improve both the learning curve and ultimate results. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

â–¶ Forget the business case; get to the Situation Assessment. Don’t view CSR and sustainability as stand-alone issues with solely external drivers. Consider the rising expectations that stakeholders and customers have of today’s businesses. Within that context, think about the role your business, nonprofit or organization plays in your local community and among your customers. What are their expectations and how can you not only meet but exceed these expectations—and exceed them better than your competition?

Every business has some impact on the environment. It could be as basic as the electricity you use in your headquarters, or as complex as one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies with integrated supply chains and global transportation systems. A lot can be learned from actually going through the process of assessing the CSR and sustainability drivers affecting your organization. At Campbell, I perform a full Situation Assessment and present it to and with our executive team annually. We advance or adapt it as needed.

â–¶ Situation drives strategy, structure and success. Building a strategy around CSR and sustainability is the most critical step in achieving lasting value in your organization. One challenge that most companies face when first embarking on a CSR strategy is confusing activity with outcome. While it’s important to measure activity, the strategy and ultimate metrics should be focused on outcomes that benefit the business. Many have referred to the concept of sustainability as the 3P’s: People, Profit and Plant. While these may be helpful in communicating concepts, I think that a different set of P’s is important when building a strategy: Performance, People and Perception. Ask yourself these questions about those P’s:

• What performance you are trying to drive and how will you measure it?

• How will you set accountability for your people and reward them when they advanced your strategy?

• How will you build awareness and enlistment inside of your organization, and build the story you intend with your customers and other external stakeholders.

â–¶ PR must be audience based. The communications strategy surrounding CSR and sustainability has grown much more sophisticated. For several years companies communicated their efforts at being good corporate citizens by publishing an annual CSR or sustainability report. They might put this report on the Web or share it with their key stakeholders. Messaging from most organizations was sporadic, bulky and, frankly, not very useful. Much like a media or marketing campaign, CSR and sustainability must be considered through the lens of the receiving audience. In putting together a strategy, it’s critical to ask the right questions.

• What do I want my employees to know?

• What do I want my suppliers and customers to know?

• What is the message I want to be persistent in the media?

• And, what are the public policy positions I want legislators and regulators to remember?

There are still many that view CSR and sustainability as an important but stand-alone program. Until you can consider these concepts within the context of every other core business strategy, integration will always be difficult. PRN


Dave Stangis is VP of CSR at Campbell Soup Company. He can be reached at [email protected].

One response to “CSR and Sustainability Should Not Stand Alone

  1. Excellent!! Thoughts, strategy delivered in a simple condensed way.

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