A Real Win-Win? Integrate CSR and Sustainability into a Company’s Purpose
Is corporate social responsibility (CSR) good for business? Is it good for the community?
The results of a new survey show that at least by some criteria the answer is definitely“yes” to the first question. The YouGov survey found that 72% of UAE residents surveyed are more likely to buy products from companies that support social and environmental causes, and an even higher 77% of high earners would do so.
But what about the second question? With the common criticism that CSR is too often just a PR exercise, CSR is being reconfigured not as a subset of public relations but as a strategic mechanism to add value. As this evolves, the answer to the second question will more unequivocally be “Yes.”
GE takes this one step further by placing CSR as “an integral part of our existence, our purpose and values,” as Rania Rostom, Chief Innovation Officer of GE Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, said during a panel session at the recently held 12th Annual CSR Summit in Dubai.
“We need a qualitative shift whereby CSR pursues the ideal of creating economic value that also adds value to the society. CSR must be integrated with the business strategy and goals, and the CSR program must be aligned with company’s purpose.”
When this happens, the win-win of CSR is much more impactful. For GE, two examples of this integrated CSR commitment are its ecomagination and healthymagination initiatives. Since 2005, GE has invested $15 billion in Ecomagination R&D, on its way to meeting its commitment of $25 billion in total Ecomagination investment by 2020.
Ecomagination products and solutions help GE’s customers improve their operations, enhance sustainability, save billions of dollars and reduce their environmental impact. healthymagination develops products and solutions that will enable high-quality but more affordable healthcare to more people around the world.
For GE, Ecomagination offerings generated $34 billion in revenue during 2014, while this initiative has impacted the company’s own operations by improving sustainability, with a 32% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2004 and a 45% reduction in freshwater use since 2006.
During the keynote panel titled, “A Reality Check on CSR in the Region: Moving from short-term philanthropy to strategic CSR and sustainability,” Rostom said that an another important component of effective CSR is to bring tangible change to communities — through local talent development and localized innovation. For GE, examples of the former include a recent partnership with Wamda to create the MEMakers microsite that provides a platform for dialogue among aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals, particularly those building and engineering things.
GE is promoting localized innovation in facilities across the region, including the GE ecomagination Center in Masdar City, the Saudi GE Innovation Center in Dhahran, and the GE Turkey Customer Innovation Center, and through competitions such as the GE Sonelgaz Innovation Challenge in Algeria.
Community also is built into the way the company’s employees work. During 2014, an estimated 1 million GE volunteer hours were contributed through more than 5,500 company-sponsored initiatives around the world. Aside from their time, GE employees and retirees donated money to support their communities, an amount that when combined with the$108 million from the GE Foundation, totaled $200 million.