Walk the Eco Talk
A 2013 Mintel study states that 19% of people will buy products from and associate with companies that practice green and sustainable activities in order to be perceived as environmentally responsible*. With this importance perceived by so many consumers on green practices, why don’t companies also strive to be seen as more environmentally friendly. If consumers feel they are being judged based on their environmental friendliness, shouldn’t companies become weary of their public perception as far as green practices and actually walk the eco talk too.
Companies like The Body Shop have been at the forefront of CSR involving environmental issues**. The Body Shop uses natural ingredients in their products that biodegrade and they encourage customers to bring their used bottles back into stores for a refill. Their efforts have given them an amazing reputation as one of the great companies on earth when it comes to environmental friendliness, winning the green retailer of the year award in 2009, and their positive public perception follows***.
Furthermore, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has said that authentic, true CSR will benefit both the community and improve employee pride****. In the case of Salesforce, Benioff has started a 1% program in which 1% of Salesforce’s equity, 1% of their profits and 1% of their employee hours will be spent on charitable or community organizations****. The employees can easily see the pride taken by Salesforce as helpers in a community and the positive public perception follows their CSR culture and it only costs 1%.
Such green initiatives can be extremely beneficial to companies like The Body Shop or Salesforce, but watch out, as consumers are quick to sniff out ‘greenwashing’ - that is the practice of carrying out some superficial socially-responsible activities to cover otherwise-unchanged corporate practices for the sake of publicity. Companies need to support their ‘claims’ with the corresponding action – walk the eco talk.
Many companies make false claims to steal favor from customers. For instance, Shell claims to be a “good neighbor,” but has been reported for leaving oil spills in communities without cleaning up****. Similarly, Coca-Cola has received complaints for draining wells for their own use in India despite their claims that they were environmentally responsible****. CSR loses its meaning when companies abuse the term. In the cases of Shell and Coca Cola, customers likely see CSR as a lie made in order to gain community favor.
The effort of the companies that truly do care about the environment and community will continue to shine through, improving the perception of their brand. Efforts as simple as sustainable light bulbs, creative energy sources, responsible packaging and true respect for the community will help consumers see any company as a positive member of their society and a favorable brand worth their time and business.
Corporate social responsibility can lead consumers to believe that the company’s products and services are better performing – i.e a 'benevolent halo effect' where positive attitudes toward a company translate into positive beliefs about the company's products and services.