By Kathleen Dohearty, Branigan Communications, www.branigan.biz
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been a part of the public relations lexicon for years. It's a strategy that has contributed to the overall reputation management of large and small companies.
But over the past decade or so, things have changed. The world has changed. A CSR strategy is no longer a nice-to-have or partisan agenda, but a business requirement. Consumers, suppliers, distributors and other business partners have demanded it. Social responsibility initiatives now have an effect on corporate bottom lines or triple bottom lines comprised of performance, social responsibility (sustainability) and people or intellectual capital.
But some companies haven't stopped there. They are trying to change the industries and cities where they do business for the better. I attended the Water Council Summit V in September and witnessed a consortium of businesses that have put Milwaukee on the international map for water innovation in business, academia and research. The Water Council has taken social responsibility to a new level and is the model for companies affecting social and economic change in this millennium.
Rich Meeusen, CEO, Badger Meter, gave the Summit's closing remarks. Many who are familiar with his unfettered speaking style might recognize this story. To paraphrase, he talked about four men who were laying bricks. An onlooker walked by each and asked what they were doing. The first man said I'm laying bricks. The second man said I'm building a wall. The third craftsman said well, I'm building a church, and the fourth and final man said I'm building a place where people can worship their God.
Vision. It's what separates those that engage in CSR aesthetics from companies that are truly making a difference. Milwaukee is a leading citizen in this arena with Badger Meter, A.O. Smith, Johnson Controls, Veolia and others headquartered here truly walking the walk and contributing to this model globally. No, they are not perfect, and when a microscope is taken to these efforts, they aren't entirely altruistic. They are also profit centers. In this day and age, economic prosperity is as much of a reason to dive deeper into the CSR pool as any.
There are many of us in Milwaukee that work at and with these businesses and we all know integrating social responsibility is not that easy sometimes. The day-to-day work takes precedence over vision. Performance and delivery on marketing communications and sales strategies sometimes trump the slow-moving dinosaur that we call a corporate business/culture shift. But it can happen.
There's a water company on the north side of Chicago that is doing this very thing through building consensus where possible, but the majority of forward movement occurs without 100 percent approval. It takes guts and a risk of failure to catapult a company into this way of thinking and operating.
So the next time you put PR plans and corporate social responsibility strategies to paper, ask yourselves, are you laying bricks or doing something more?