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Beyond the Bottom Line: Execs Who Want to Make a Difference

By Melissa J. Anderson

“It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.” Ah yes, the mantra of any company’s diversity/CSR/sustainability expert. The reasoning, of course, is that business leaders won’t consider any action toward an evolved workplace when there isn’t also a financial incentive involved. “The right thing to do” is merely an externality. And in many cases this may still be true.

But, as evidenced by remarks at the recent UN Global Conference on Social Change, the needle may be moving in the other direction. What the speakers indicated is that “the right thing to do” is good for business – they are not two different aspects of any particular action, but one and the same.

Louise Guido, President and CEO of the Foundation for Social Change suggested changing the phrase “Corporate Social Responsibility” to “Corporate Social Opportunity.” Capitalizing on opportunities to lead change, said Guido, is just good business sense.

And executives who want to lead change may be necessary in today’s political environment. As Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President for Social Research and Policy at Calvert Investments explained during the conference, it’s clear that in the US at least, the government is unlikely to lead progressive social or environmental change. He said, “Companies, NGOs, shareholders, and concerned citizens will have to find opportunities for change outside Washington.”

This presents a pretty big opportunity for company leaders who make their mark in the world. And a new study by global PR firm Weber Shandwick has revealed that these senior decision makers are looking for their own Corporate Social Opportunity.

Earlier this week, Weber Shandwick released the results of a new study entitled “Why Corporations Invest in Corporate Social Responsibility.” According to the results of the study, the major motivating factor in why companies take on CSR initiatives is so its leaders can have “an impact on critical issues.”

Paul Massey, Senior Vice President, Social Impact at Weber Shandwick, explains, “Interestingly, having an impact on critical issues (30%) outranked several more business-oriented motivations, such as building customer loyalty (15%), differentiating the company from competitors (6%) and engaging and retaining employees. ”

It’s interesting that, to these senior executives, “it’s the right thing to do” still trumps “the business case.”

As Massey writes:

“Corporations are looking at community needs and asking how they can narrow and better focus their resources and expertise to foster genuine change on specific critical issues. Given the urgent need for action in the U.S. on vital issues such as education, health and wellness, economic development and environmental sustainability, that’s encouraging news.”

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