A company hoping to capture the attention of Gen Z and millennial consumers today can’t ignore its corporate social responsibility (CSR) program — that synthesis of tenets like accountability, sustainability and philanthropy, which build up a brand‘s reputation and, ideally, make the planet a better place. And it’s not just consumers who want to put their money towards positive change: Research shows that 70% of investors want to invest in companies with values that align with their own.
Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic thrust CSR efforts into the spotlight, as many consumers wanted their brands of choice to step up during the crisis. But CSR as we know it now was actually coined back in the 1970s, when the idea of the “social contract” between business and society was declared by the Committee for Economic Development.
Even before that, though, business and societal issues worked hand-in-hand to effect change. A little-known fact is that the upcoming Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment on August 26, was made possible, in part, by the private-labeled teas that helped power the suffragist movement.
We know that CSR programs can drive real results, but for every company that purports to live up to its values, it seems like a dozen more glide by on greenwashing and other false promises. So how can a company make sure that it develops a CSR program that really puts more good into the world?
Entrepreneur sat down with Kevin Kaminyar, founder and CEO of Yellow Tree Marketing, to discuss the importance of CSR, and how he centers it at his own company with a three-step approach.
1. Choose an initiative
Deciding on a cause to rally around can seem difficult, even overwhelming. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. “Whenever somebody thinks about how to make change, they think, Oh man, I have to build an electric car,” Kaminyar says. “But that’s not true; there’s a lot more we can do.”
At Yellow Tree Marketing, Kaminyar and his team strive to reduce the earth’s carbon dioxide levels by planting trees for each of their clients. Planting one tree removes 20 pounds of carbon dioxide from the environment every year for approximately 20 years, Kaminyar says. To date, the agency has planted 98 trees across California, the United Kingdom, Kenya and the Amazon rainforest.
The options are near-limitless when it comes to backing an initiative that your company — and its customers — truly care about. For example, the fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen aims to be carbon neutral by 2027, and athleisure brand Lululemon also strives to reduce its burden on the environment. Meanwhile, some of the biggest companies, like Disney and Microsoft, fold multiple initiatives, including sustainability, into their CSR programs; the former highlights diversity, equity and inclusion, and the latter also supports inclusive economic opportunity.
2. Find a good partner
Once you’ve landed on your company’s initiative, choose a good partner to make things easier. “Finding a partner is the best way to go about things so that you’re hands-off,” Kaminyar explains. “You don’t have to worry about the operations or the process that goes into the program you choose.”
Yellow Tree Marketing partners with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit based in Canada that plants trees across the globe.
Again, the options for a partner organization are abundant if you know where to look. (Hint: It really can be as easy as a quick Google search). Ben & Jerry’s, which consistently ranks among the most socially responsible companies, counts the Children’s Defense Fund, Rock the Vote, MyClimate and more among its allies when it comes to fighting for its chosen causes. Similarly, the LEGO Group teamed up with UNICEF to empower children through play, and with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to lower carbon emissions in its manufacturing and supply chain operations.
3. Be strategic about brand messaging
The work doesn’t stop with choosing an initiative and partner. The last step is arguably the most important — turning an idea into action. “It’s one thing just to have a brand and say, ‘These issues exist, and we feel strongly about how this is unjust,'” Kaminyar says. “But people really want to know how they can make a difference.”
Kaminyar says it helps to provide a direct call to action: Tell people what your goal is, whom you’re partnering with to achieve it, and exactly how you’re measuring any progress made. Another key to lasting success? Let people know what they can do as consumers to help, giving them a sense of direction that translates into the common aim — change for the better.
Yellow Tree Marketing’s website puts impact front and center, allowing users to see how the company’s partnered impact breaks down by the number of happy clients (41), trees planted (98) and pounds of carbon dioxide to be removed (43,120).
And there you have it. With three simple but intentional steps, any company can transform itself into a force for good — and impress its customers, including Gen Zers, who already make up 40% of U.S. consumers today, in the process.
Kaminyar puts it simply: “If a company is starting today and they don’t have some kind of CSR program in place, they’re putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”