CSR – The Danger of Doing Good At The Cost of Brand Awareness

Can small companies with CSR avoid causing big problems?

The role of Corporate Social Responsibility should be a company’s attempt to raise the standard of that which is legally required to increase accountability, whilst addressing civil societies expectations. This is now fore fronted by the increasingly shrinking role of governmental regulation of corporate citizenship, boosting voluntary and non-regulated efforts within the realm of CSR.

Businesses today are focussing their CSR concerns in environmental protection and poverty alleviation and when done well, it is a smart brand strategy; it generates brand awareness, garners consumer trust and contributes to their bottom line. The problem lies in the lack of regulation in the field of CSR which has led businesses to make ill-informed decisions that not only damages their brand image in the long run, but often has serious implications for those effected by the issues they address.

The Business of Business Is Business

Any successful company knows that growth and survival is best achieved by following consumer trends and it just so happens that the current trend is to show you care. In a 2018 UK Brand Report, figures showed that 2 in 5 consumers are ‘belief driven buyers’; they buy (or don’t) based on a brand’s stand on societal issues. It’s a rising movement that shows global double-digit growth from 2017-2018 in 6/8 markets, It’s multi-generational and spans across income levels, with reported effects in consumer habits as a direct link to CSR campaigns.

The UK retail giant Iceland launched a 2018 CSR Christmas Campaign against the use of palm oil in their own brand products via a Greenpeace adapted film called ‘Rang-tan’. The initiative utilised brand democracy perfectly, awarding the company with a greater public view of their brand integrity. It was viewed across social media 65 million times making it one of the UK’s most viewed Christmas campaigns of all time! It boosted Iceland’s brand image, giving it the highest consumer consideration score of any retailer on the YouGov Brandindex and doubled the brand’s talk-ability factor, raising it from 7th to 2nd place. It also boosted the profits of the supermarket’s palm oil free Mince Pies.

However, the campaign has since come under fire for starting a movement with wider ecological implications on the environment. When you consider that palm oil crops replacements require up to nine times the land for production than palm, the deforestation of Borneo suddenly looks a lot different. Such shortfalls within the world of CSR are a common problem stemming from the nature of its Civil Regulation. The issue with CSR is that there is no real governance, no unified body of regulation and it allows CEO’s with very little understanding in things like poverty and environmentalism to find themselves in a court of the people (their consumers) who likewise, don’t know much about it either.

What Came First, The Brand Awareness Or The Cause?

When a company’s CSR initiative builds brand value by responding to the demands of civil society, it tends to favour the voices that are heard the loudest – consumers with purchasing power and no real exposure to the marginalised members of society it too often harms. Take Walmart’s CSR ‘Green Agenda’, the supermarket giant pledged to install hundreds of solar panelling units, at the cost of the manufacturers reportedly dumping silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic by-product of Polysilicon manufacturing, directly onto fields in China’s Henan Province. This kind of Middle Class Environmentalism renders CSR results that skew away from those interested and affected – ‘where is the responsibility?’

So How Can A Small Business With Little To No Budget For A CSR Team/Manager Avoid Real World Repercussions?

Although these examples are from huge companies with the financial capabilities to hire dedicated CSR teams and experts, they’re still getting it wrong. For smaller companies to engage socially and create impact without causing damage to both their brand and those they endeavour to serve, they need to take small steps into the world of CSR; rather than thinking of how to change the world, focus your energy on supporting your local community and keep them involved/accountable when you do.

5 CSR campaigns for the small business:

1.      By offering college scholarship competitions, you will empower your community to become designers in their own fortune.


2.      Create a ‘day of giving’, where customers, clients, and employees can work together to complete a volunteer project aligned with your CSR.


3.      Consider sponsoring an award for an outstanding member of your local community nominated by your customers and employees.


4.      Launch a fundraising drive that your company matches for a local cause.


5.      As a small business, nobody expects you to be the expert in your CSR cause, so do yourself a favour and ask the experts. Partner with charities that have been there, done that and likely already have something you can contribute to.

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