Doing Social Good Benefits Businesses As Well as Community


Op-Ed, Schenectady (NY) Gazette

Doing Social Good Benefits Businesses As Well as Community

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been an active part of many organizations around the world and has a growing currency within the United States.  It argues persuasively that organizations have a responsibility to multiple stakeholders in the conduct of their business and not just to the stockowners. This concept of shared value is based on the idea that corporate success and social welfare are interdependent.  It is an organization’s way of integrating economic, social, and environmental imperatives into their business model. Furthermore, it encourages employees to volunteer their time and interests on activities that improve the environment in which they live, work and play.  

All this came to mind when the President of SUNY-Albany recently announced that as a result of the behavior of a small number of students involved in the fracas in Albany, he was cancelling SUNY’s annual Fountain Day activities. He did this reluctantly, but was convinced that this was the responsible thing to do.  University presidents are beholden to a wide variety of constituents who have a critical stake in the success and reputation of a university.  I applaud President Phillip for taking this action and for taking a public stand in order to advance SUNY’s positive standing in the Capital District community and its reputation as a world class academic institution.

Examples of the positive impact of Corporate Social Responsibility abound.  

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson Company faced a severe crisis when someone in the Chicago area laced several packages of Tylenol with cyanide in which seven people were reported to have died.  Promptly, Johnson & Johnson began issuing public warning about the problem, initiated an immediate product recall, halted all advertising of the product until safety could be assured and took a major public leadership role until the crisis was resolved.  It cost Johnson & Johnson an estimated $100 million in lost revenue.  From their perspective, it was the only responsible thing to do.

Seven years later in 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling an estimated 260,000 barrels of crude oil.  Not only was it an ecological disaster, it was a public relations nightmare for the company and its shareholders.  Yet from this disaster, Exxon began to reconsider its approach to business.  Today, in addition to an annual report to shareholders, ExxonMobil now issues an annual Corporate Citizenship Report outlining its focus on CSR initiatives and achievements.  The 2009 report (available at runs 50 pages and focuses on corporate governance, safety and health in the workplace, and environmental performance – all designed to help the company become more responsible stewards of the business and environment in which their people work.  Other oil corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have similar reports.

Locally Capital District companies have been very active in their CSR efforts to improve not only their financial bottom line, but to be good corporate citizens. There is no shortage of employees volunteering their time, money and expertise to make their neighborhoods safer, cleaner, and a better place to live.   For over 70 years, Price Chopper’s Golub Foundation has supported numerous charitable organizations that are involved with human services, arts, culture, education and youth oriented activities.  In order to encourage people to attend programs at Proctor’s Theatre, the Times-Union provides free parking in the Metroplex garage.

The Schenectady chapter of GE’s Elfun Society has volunteers, both active and retired employees, who provide services within the Capital District.  One group repairs tape recorders used for “Books on Tape” in libraries for sight impaired patrons. Others modify electronic toys that can be enjoyed by children with certain types of physical disabilities.

On an individual level, employees of Merriam Insurance Company are active in the cleanup of the I-890 corridor into Schenectady, collecting food and clothing for homeless shelters, and providing tents for the earthquake ravaged citizens of Haiti.  They don’t do it for their own glory.  They do it selflessly to make their little corner of the world a better place.  

There are many ways to promote CSR activities in your company

  • First, define corporate social responsibility for your company. What works for a bank or insurance company may be completely different from a bottling company or a hospital;
  • Establish metrics for measuring the impact of the company’s CSR practices. Quantitative metrics are easier to defend and promote than qualitative metrics;
  • Involve your employees in defining and advancing CSR. Give them the authority and responsibility to figure out a way to make it happen. They will do it far faster and better than some corporate committee;
  • Celebrate success.  Communicate to everyone - sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly. Publicize your activities internally to all employees and externally to all other stakeholders as appropriate. Let them know that their CSR work is highly valued and is an integral part of your corporate DNA.

Corporate Social Responsibility will not solve all of society’s ills, but it will go a long way to making the world a better place. In corporate terms, CSR makes good business sense. It gives everyone a reason to smile. It is what the future of business is all about.




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