Anita Roddick says “Stuff the shareholders!”

A generation ago, I was introduced to the concept of social responsibility at a Social Venture Network conference. I’d founded The Delahaye Group a few years earlier and was invited by a fellow entrepreneur to participate in the three-day celebration of entrepreneurship and progressive ideas.

I found myself pitching my concept of measuring PR to an assortment of CEOs, including Tom Chappel, founder of Tom’s of Maine, and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s. A few hours later, I found myself holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” with Bruce Katz, founder of Rockport Shoes, and Gun Denhart, founder of Hannah Andersson, while Raffi kept us in tune.

The keynote speaker was Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, who was at the time the second richest woman in England, after the Queen. She described her then radical ideas of refusing to test her products on animals, and buying her ingredients exclusively from “sustainable” sources. An audience member asked how her shareholders responded, and she replied in her quintessentially British accent: “Stuff the shareholders!”

Sustainability was part of her core beliefs and essential to her brand. What her investors thought was irrelevant to her decision making. Even in that crowd, it was a revolutionary statement.

Needless to say it all made an impression on this fledgling business woman. When I got back home I threatened to fire our accounting firm for not using recycled paper, and insisted that all the wood in our new building had to be harvested sustainably. (None of our builders even knew what that meant!)

Today, CSR is part of your job

Fast forward a few decades, and boy, have things changed. What was originally the purview of a handful of left-leaning business types is today a staple of investment decision making. Today, companies tout their records on environment, social, and governance (ESG) in their earnings calls. Entire mutual funds build their portfolios on companies that perform well on ESG criteria.

It’s not hard to see why. A company with a good ESG track record is less likely to be subject to lawsuits, boycotts, and other reputational crises. And when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, a reputation for being socially responsible is a necessity.

Once upon a time CSR was seen as part of the “charitable” wing of an organization. But not today; CSR is a vital part of survival. As a result, more and more organizations are placing it squarely in the middle of corporate communications.

Which brings us back to the CSR issue of our newsletter.  Now that CSR is right there on the communicator’s tool belt, alongside PR, social, and digital communications, it must be evaluated like any other tactic. Which is why we’ve come up with a handful of tips, a guide to metrics, five case studies, and plenty of background on the topic: