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Corporate Social Responsibility and HR

by Sarah McAdams

When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR), HR departments have a particularly crucial role to play. “When you strive to be a more responsible company, you are relying on people to make sure you stay true to your values, and HR’s expertise is people,” explains Marcy Scott Lynn, CSR manager at Sun Microsystems.” HR plays an important role in setting the tone and culture of an organization.”

Employees to Sun: You’re all talk!
Employees weren’t always enthusiastic about Sun’s CSR efforts. The company conducts a yearly employee survey called Power of Sun, which asks workers various questions about the company’s operations and management. “In 2006, we first asked employees about their view of Sun as a socially and environmentally responsible company, and we found that 92 percent of respondents wanted us to be ‘responsible,’ but only 84 percent actually thought we were,” Lynn says.

So the company created some employee engagement programs, including more robust employee communications that allow workers to participate in its efforts to become a more responsible company as well as an employee CSR advisory board. “Any effective CSR program requires executive leadership’s commitment to be successful. While executive support is necessary, it is not sufficient,” Lynn says. “We can have all the ‘right’ CSR goals in place, but it’s our employees who do the work that will enable us to meet those goals, and if they are not engaged in our efforts, we will surely not succeed.”

Read Sun’s 2007 CSR Report

Transparency, accountability, and connection to business objectives
Lynn says Sun’s annual CSR report is vital in communicating the company’s commitment to transparency and its desire to be held accountable for its actions. “We use the report as a way to communicate with a broad range of stakeholders about our CSR efforts. The report enables them to learn about how Sun approaches CSR, how we connect it to our core business objectives, and what goals we have set for ourselves,” she explains. “It also allows anyone who is interested to track our progress toward those goals and to provide us with candid feedback about our efforts.”

One thing the company has learned, Lynn says, is that CSR by its very definition is a strategy that is aligned with core business objectives. “Otherwise it is not CSR, it is simply PR,” she says.

The company’s dedication to innovation has led to eco-responsible solutions to some of its customer’s biggest technology challenges while increasing its own revenue. Through its flexible commute work program, Open Work, Sun has been able to reduce its real estate footprint and therefore its environmental impact as a company, while saving the company millions of dollars and increasing employee satisfaction. “Increasingly, stakeholders — consumers, customers, partners, employees, investors, government — are demanding that companies operate in a way that respects people and the planet while also being profitable,” Lynn says. “The companies that can best do this are the ones that will survive and thrive in the years to come.”

But making a CSR program work takes a real commitment. “The best advice we can give other companies trying to make a CSR program work is to focus on your core business objectives and engage your stakeholders, including employees,” Lynn says. “Tying your CSR objectives to the business ensures that you will create meaningful and measurable goals. Engaging your stakeholders means you will be accountable for achieving those goals.”

Making employees a key part of your CSR plan gives you the best chances for success, Lynn adds. “It is those employees who know how CSR principles can apply to their everyday work at a company,” she explains. “Those employees will be the first to see the business benefits, the sales opportunities, the efficiencies, and the cost savings associated with a business that is mindful of its social and environmental responsibilities.”

Why HR should care about CSR
There’s a host of reasons companies are (or should be) attracted to CSR — the philanthropic, sustainable, and eco-conscious ones being, of course, those most bandied about. But there is increasing proof that CSR programs (those done right, anyway) affect almost every aspect of a business, including those tied to the bottom line.

A new report, “Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Communications: Who’s Listening? Who’s Leading? What Matters Most?” details many of them — some of which should interest HR professionals, in particular. The study, which was cosponsored by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, Net Impact, Edelman, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, shows that companies severely underestimate the degree of importance job seekers put on the level of a prospective employer’s social responsibility.

According to the report, many workers would take less salary to join a socially responsible company:

  • 29.8 percent of study participants would take 10 percent less salary,
  • 20.4 percent would take 15 percent less,
  • 15.7 percent would take 20 percent less,
  • 14.5 would take 25 percent less,
  • and 14 percent would take five percent less.

“Employees’ and potential employees’ interest in CSR is hardly passive,” the authors wrote. “They are clearly willing to participate ? that is, to be directly involved with working on products or services that advance social causes and promote environmental responsibility.”

Read the full report

Sarah McAdams has reported on HR for a variety of publications, including the Journal of Employee Communications Management, Corporate Legal Times, and The Ragan Report.

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