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To succeed in the era of corporate social responsibility, a new business must address two crucial questions: What need does my product or service fulfill? How does it help society at large?
It’s easy to make a promise, harder to keep it. In recent years, companies have been making many vows to do better. Whether a business promises to reduce its carbon footprint, be more equitable in hiring or better serve a group in need, consumers are demanding more transparency.
With so many companies making similar pledges, it’s understandable for the public to be skeptical of corporate commitment to causes. So how can you show that your corporate social responsibility isn’t just a marketing strategy and that you’re really doing the work?
1. Show and tell
Say you’ve promised to plant a tree for every pair of shoes sold. It would be easy for that pledge to turn into a platitude. Who would check? Remote sensor monitoring has become so advanced, though, that regularly updated satellite imagery honed in on a specific location for planting would show the work is indeed happening. Those images could be posted publicly for consumers to see and shared with important stakeholders.
The technique has also been adopted by organizations that want validation that their suppliers are acting responsibly, including not contributing to deforestation. That’s what one refiner of palm oil, the ubiquitous ingredient in a host of consumer products, did. By monitoring its suppliers’ farming practices, the refiner could ensure they weren’t harming any forests and preserve their reputation as a responsible source of the ingredient. The results are mapped and presented quarterly on easy-to-read dashboards for the public.
With the corporate world beginning to prioritize reports on sustainable practices, the geographic approach of mapping this information gives people the necessary context of where products are sourced and what people and places are impacted.
Related: How Kate Hudson Cut Through the Noise to Promote Sustainability
2. Go where you’re needed
As the leader of a new business, you might ask yourself, “What problem am I solving?” The same question lends itself to doing social good. One company noticed that amid large-scale emergencies, public safety and first responders were working separately off of disparate data and systems that couldn’t be shared and that didn’t communicate with one another. Its solution put valuable emergency-response information on a shared map that could be prepopulated with data about the affected community, ahead of a disaster, helping to put everyone on the same page when the need arose.
The company focused on its skill set and doing what it does best to assist. Recognizing your organization’s specific talents can be the first step in determining what problem you can help solve during a community crisis and keep you from duplicating existing efforts.
3. Work smarter, not harder
Basic needs, including access to food, have been stretched thin between health crises and natural disasters. In 2020, the need for food aid across the United States rose by as much as 500%. For community aid groups and food banks, it could feel a bit like sticking one’s finger into a dam to stop an oncoming flood.
To get so many charitable groups on the same page or, in this case, on the same map, the American Red Cross, with support from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, built the Disaster Partner Hub. The site coordinates emergency responses among more than 70 relief organizations. Accessible online, anytime and from anywhere, it meant groups did not overlap in their relief efforts and could focus on where there was a need specific to each organization’s offering.
There’s also a lesson here for entrepreneurs looking to do good: Focus on your strengths without trying to be everything to everybody and partner with like-minded companies and business leaders. If you fly drones as part of your business, offer flight time for search and rescue efforts. If you’re in the clothing industry, use leftover fabric to make blankets or cloth masks to distribute when needed. The key is knowing where to go. Organizations with similar philanthropic goals could set up a shared line of communication much like the Red Cross’s Disaster Partner Hub that’s mobilized when needed to show who is doing what, and where. See the same need, the same goal and the path to get there — in one collaborative place.
Related: Why Collaboration Is Essential to Entrepreneurship
4. Seek out underserved markets
Corporate donations aimed at supporting anti-racism causes surged in 2020. But another way businesses can do their part to combat systemic problems is to proactively set out to reverse them. Areas traditionally underserved by banks and full-service grocery stores — financial and food deserts that trace their lack of services to historic redlining — can be ripe for an ethical, entrepreneurial enterprise.
It takes smart maps to understand an area’s residents and what they need, like building up a record of credit or better transportation networks to access grocery stores and banks. In the case of banking deserts, financial institutions can use location-intelligence tools to visualize where inequities exist. It isn’t charity. It’s good business to reach out to an untapped market while simultaneously serving the community’s needs. The potential isn’t limited to banking. Socially conscious businesses can pinpoint communities that may be lacking vital resources by layering social-equity data on maps showing what is (or rather, isn’t) available, like sidewalks. Local neighborhood paths can be taken for granted, but at least one startup is focused on mapping their accessibility and walkability — two features that can greatly improve a community’s quality of life.
Related: 7 Ways to Make Your Business More Socially Conscious
Whether they’re customers, shareholders or members of the board of directors, people often believe what they see. Smart maps and the location intelligence they offer can show tangible proof — like where trees have been planted or where services are being provided in previously underserved areas — revealing that promises of doing social good are in fact being fulfilled.