Should Your Company Care About Doing Good?

In today’s unstable financial world we all need to think about is the bottom line. Where can we get new customers from? How do we decrease churn? How can we increase profits?

“Goodness is the only investment that never fails” – Henry David Thoreau

Our magpie-like obsession with cash-flow has led companies to some pretty dark places. Ford knowingly signed hundreds of death warrants with their Pinto model in the 1970’s, refusing to fix their fire-prone fuel tanks. The upgrade would have cost more than the $200,000 Ford set as the value for a human life.

Today’s corporations’ compete with their carefully constructed CSR schemes, constantly trying to outdo each other and promote their brands. Is this something that you should be thinking about?

Simply put, should your company care about doing good, and is it realistic to expect all companies to focus on making a difference?

People Care About Doing Good

Central to the rhetoric of most employers is the importance of company culture – how essential it is to create a working environment that keeps employees happy. It isn’t just the threat of the ‘great reveal’ on social networks like Glassdoor that keeps companies honest here, happier employees tend to be more productive.

Recent Deloitte research suggests that employees who frequently volunteer for charitable causes are more likely to be satisfied at work, happier, and are also more likely to recommend their employer to friends. It could be worth testing whether a CSR scheme has a similar effect at your company.

The impact of encouraging charity isn’t restricted to your existing workforce, it also has an impact on recruitment. A great recent piece from Barry Salzburg used findings from a Deloitte survey to explore what millennials want from their career. Generation y expect businesses to do good – 68% believe that companies could do more to reduce resource scarcity and 65% want employers to tackle climate change more effectively. Companies are scrambling to find the best strategy to attract troublesome Millennials, but maybe the answer is clear – show that you care.

Caring Can Help Your Company

Doing ‘good’ also gives you a new angle from which to approach customers. Over the past few years Walmart has established itself as a leader in environment issues. In 2008 they ran a successful ad campaign to raise awareness about the environment and help customers make better choices. It helped them engage customers and promote their stance on environmentalism.

CSR schemes can be a good way to look after your company’s long term future. Unilever CEO Paul Polman defines sustainability broadly. He wants to improve things for his customers and workers, as well as contribute to society as a whole. He argues that companies are coming under increasing public scrutiny, and these steps are necessary to maintain the firm’s “licence to operate”.

Caring can also lead to innovation. Unilever has had great success with dry shampoo – a product that was aimed at encouraging people to save water. Without sustainability on the agenda it’s unlikely they would have found this popular solution (we all know plenty of people who rely heavily on it today!)

Not All Companies Can Be Caring 

There’s a central problem with all of this – caring costs money. In his recent book ‘Zero to One‘, Peter Thiel argues that it’s something that only businesses that have established a monopoly can afford to care about. It’s Unilever’s dominance that allows it the luxury of it’s ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ (detailed in this excellent ‘Economist’ article) – 99% of companies need to dedicate their resources to growth and profitability.

In general we’re getting better, but we have to acknowledge that companies will always put profitability first. Brands are always looking to cut costs despite tragedies like the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

It’s wrong to ask all companies to try and do good from the outset – even Google has dropped it’s famous ‘don’t be evil’ motto. Despite this, we can (and we should) work towards a more sustainable future.

This post originally appeared on the Seed Blog

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