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Redefining the Corporation’s Role in Society

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This post originally appeared on purpose.edelman.com on December 21st, 2012.

While a number of huge events made headlines in 2012 – super-storm Sandy, the U.S. presidential election, international financial scandals – there was one notable topic catching the eyes of businesses around the globe: Corporate Citizenship. Corporate Citizenship is not a new phenomenon by any means, but 2012 showed us that it is no longer an option for brands.

87 percent of global consumers believe business should place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests, according to the 2012 Edelman goodpurpose® study, yet less than a third (28 percent) believe business is actually performing well in addressing societal issues. With consumers growing more and more accepting of brands supporting social and environmental issues and benefiting their bottom line at the same time, it is important for corporations to consider how they can best align their business to their citizenship efforts for a true “shared value” approach without coming off as self-serving.

Throughout 2012, we saw a number of trends driving corporate citizenship efforts:

  • Corporate character as a central driving force in platform development: A corporation’s purpose has grown to be front and center when it comes to developing citizenship platforms, enabling companies to bring specific business expertise to society in a new, meaningful way. What’s more, The State of Corporate Citizenship 2012 report, published by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, states that aligning corporate citizenship strategy with a company’s overall corporate strategy is key to achieving important business objectives. Success was as much as nine times more likely in terms of reputation and corporate culture-related impacts for those who integrated over those who did not.
  • Integration of business and new products/services into what a company does to benefit society: Being a good corporate citizen is no longer about simply making a donation to a good cause. Companies are focused on how they can work their business and product offerings into their sustainable cause platforms to make a greater societal impact.
  • Corporate citizenship touching all aspects of employee engagement: A strong corporate citizenship program is extremely attractive to prospective employees, primarily millennials. Robust programs also help to boost morale and increase productivity and retention in a time when top performers are interested in more than just a job and instead looking for their work to be their calling.
  • Long-term commitments to large, global issues as well as local ones: Most corporations are not able to make that great impact they are looking for on their own, so the key is to partner with other organizations and combine efforts to make a larger impact on global issues than one could do alone. It is important, however, not to forget about those local causes that can make big differences, such as seen by American Express’s Small Business Saturday or the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative.
  • The rise of the B Corp: With the rise of the B Corp movement, companies are making a stand to show their dedication to creating benefits that extend past their shareholders and on to the more general public. With more than 600 B Corps in 18 countries, corporate success no longer solely correlated with profitability – one must also do good for society as a whole.

For successful corporate citizenship and a sustainable business future, companies need to focus on conducting and communicating their efforts in a way that garners trust and generates positive reputations among key stakeholders. In today’s reputation economy, it isn’t enough to merely support a cause – companies must unite what they stand for and the causes they support with the way they do business to be authentic drivers of corporate citizenship.

What corporate citizenship tactics or specific campaigns did you find most successful in 2012? What would you like to see from corporations in 2013?

Peri Brauth is an Account Executive and Jessica Jennings is an Assistant Account Executive in Edelman’s Business + Social Purpose practice. This post is produced by Business + Social Purpose’s Corp Citizenship Center of Excellence, a team of experts, idealists and actionists committed to driving mutual benefit for business and society through the development and support of purpose-driven corporate citizenship efforts. Contributing trend hunters included: Jaclyn Murphy, Andrea Shatzman, Rodolfo Araujo, Al D’Agostino and Tyler Spalding.

Photo by Nimesh Madhavan.

  • http://www.goodvibeagency.com/ Josia Nakash

    I would like to see corporations understand that we have entered an era with completely different conditions, and see them to take their rightful place in explaining this new stage to the masses right on products we use every day.

    Let this be a great 2013 for the big brands in leading us forward to a better place!

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