Corporate Social Responsibility & the measure of success

 

Christopher and I were invited by a very cool business acquaintance to join him visiting an Amazon Fulfillment Center. On our way back to an event in Bremen I asked Christopher a question, that had been bothering me, since we left the Amazon parking place. “Is it possible to become a Unicorn today, without having an ethical baggage?” (a unicorn refers to any tech startup company that reaches a $1 billion-dollar market value as determined by private or public investment.) Christopher countered with a great question himself… “Is it necessary for every company to strive for the Unicorn-status?”

Fridays for Future

It was on a Friday like this in late August 2018, that Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school girl and activist ignited a movement, a movement that would take the globe by storm. In 2018 Sweden was ravaged by heat waves, drought and following wild fires, on a scale that the Scandinavian nation had never witnessed before.

After being inspired methodically by the “March for Our Lives” in the United States, she set of protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag. She vowed to do so every Friday, coining the slogan FridaysForFuture.

 

The Informed Generations

Greta Thunberg is a visible manifestation of how well informed GenZs are. And would you believe that the previous as well-informed generation, needed the GenZs to put that knowledge into action? Well that is exactly what happened. FridaysForFuture united the two most populous generations of 2019.

So why did Millennials need the push of one persistent GenZ’er? Millennials are like the GenZs also considered one of the “Digital Generations”. Their ability to access information and knowledge was rival to none… That is, until the GenZ entered the fray.

The big difference between Millennials and GenZs is activism. Although Millennials are as knowledgeable, they were also more likely to adapt to the political climate of the previous generations.

GenZs on the other hand, have taken that knowledge and armed it with activism. And they used that to champion causes important to them, in this case Climate Change.

 

Millennials find own causes.

Millennials picked up swiftly on using activism to arm their own arguments, and thanks to their life experience, doing it much more refined and spreading it to a variety of causes. The causes were hurdled into the consciousness of the general public and even more significant: Politicians.

Politicians where very quick to dismiss the Climate Change movement launched by the GenZs, accrediting it to inexperience. However, as the populous Millennials joined in, the politicians could not ignore it anymore. Those who did, felt the brunt response immediately in any following election.

Millennials started championing a whole range of causes, based on ethics and tolerance, be it diversity, the environment, or even Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR is not a new concept, if anything, it’s as old as business itself. Appealing to human emotions is Marketing 101, one of these emotions is often guilt. For hundreds of years marketers forced guilt upon their consumers, and then solved it by offering a product, that in some reason relieved them of that guilt. But in the last 30 years the meaning of the term CSR has been reversed, now characterizing a companies’ commitment to act ethically in any relevant measure. It remained mostly a marketing ploy, with the same purpose of relieving both corporations and consumers of guilt.

Millennials were the first generation to widely call out companies on using CSR as public relations. Therefore millennial managers were the first generation of managers who pushed for change of how CSR should be viewed, making companies seriously commit to ethical standards.

Today Corporate Social Responsibility is a more loaded term, it forces accountability on corporations. Companies who still try to use it as a ploy, are very quickly called on it, rendering the attempt useless, even hurting the image of the company.

 

The Socially Responsible Business model

But what would happen if you took CSR and used as the foundations for your business, not only committing to ethical values, no, in this case making ethical values the core of your business.

You get a company like Ecosia. The green search engine Ecosia is one of thousands of companies, that make CSR their starting point. A company that not only brings value to the customers providing them with search results, but also provides value to the cause of planting trees around the world, paid by the ad-revenues generated by the search engine.

Ecosia is just one of countless companies, that build their organization by structuring it around an ethical cause. Its admirable how business can be founded on other principles than just the sole principle of making a profit. But in the end, we arrive at the beginning….

Christopher´s Question

“Is it necessary for every company to strive for the Unicorn status?” the question is relevant. At what ethical cost is it conscionable to chase this milestone. Right now, it’s the only measure of success. We see these companies as groundbreaking in their fields, and we do this based on the one simple standard: company valuation. Maybe we should change that, maybe we should measure success differently? Maybe success should be defined by a company doing good, not only financially, not only when it comes to its products, but maybe also when it comes to building an organization around an ethical business practice.

Here is the thing, it’s not a question anymore, Millennials and especially GenZ will change the measure of success. How you might ask? Well consider this: Who are the consumers and the workers of tomorrow? ……. Exactly! 😉