Embracing sustainability is more than just child's play

By Cormac Bradley

My 3½ year old son returned from crèche last Monday eagerly clutching a papier-mâché globe he'd made that day - with both the globe and my son painted in vibrant greens and blues.

Before I got a chance to enquire about his day and the significance of the hand-made globe, he volunteered the fact that last Monday was in fact Earth Day, and that he and his classmates had spent the day learning about the importance of protecting "the trees and the rivers" and "putting empty drinks cartons into the green bin".

Having advised clients for many years on devising and executing CSR strategies, I was slightly taken aback by his new found knowledge of international days of observance. In my defence, the sheer volume of international days means it's hard to keep track, however the importance of such dates for publicising the variety of causes they support is hard to underestimate.

The official blurb tells us that Earth Day, run by the Earth Day Network, was established in the US in 1970, and is now celebrated by more than one billion people in over 190 countries across the world. In Ireland the day was marked in various ways by a multitude of organisations - many using the occasion to emphasise  their own commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate citizenship.

While international days are a useful tool for organisations to deliver a message to various stakeholders, the proliferation of such dates means that it’s more important than ever for organisations to not just pay lip-service - but to ensure that support for various causes is in keeping with their overall sustainability agenda.

The days of issuing a press release to the media to mark Earth Day - outlining  your environmental achievements - are gone.

Analysis undertaken by ReputationInc has shown that the difficult economic times of the last few years have fundamentally changed stakeholder expectations with regards to CSR.  Far from lessening in importance, companies now see CSR as the overarching tool to address the necessity of reputation building in uncertain times.

If the last number of years have taught us anything it's that corporate responsibility is no longer simply a "nice-to-have", but is in fact business critical, with more and more companies placing CSR and sustainability at the heart of their business.  Far from being a discrete, stand-alone part of the business, for many, it has become "the business" itself - determining the way the company operates.

Leading edge companies are addressing these changes by rethinking their CSR strategies in the context of sustainability - aligning societal goals with their business strategy, securing leadership buy-in and advocacy, matching activity to stakeholders' needs, carefully choosing when and how to communicate with stakeholders and measuring the impact of such activities.

CSR remains a core element of reputation management and the importance of a strategic approach coupled with effective, selective and targeted communications cannot be overstated.

If the result of this is the creation of advocates like the boys and girls in the Toddler Inn, then, as CSR strategists, we’ll have done a good job…

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