BfG News Issue 9 - Editor's Column: Responsible from the Inside

09 Feb 2008|Added Value

Socially and environmentally responsible brands are becoming a competitive advantage, with smart businesses recognising that it not only helps financial success but is also key to attracting and retaining talent, boosting morale and productivity.

This ethical dimension in hiring is not to be underestimated.  Keith Robinson, Website Director at totaljobs.com explains it as “A new breed of job seeker [who] is placing ethical issues above financial incentives when considering a job offer”.

Responsibility begins with a sincere commitment from the company’s leaders, expressed in the form of an engaging vision or challenge to the organisation. The efforts required to execute responsible or sustainable strategies are often considerable, so require strong appropriation on the part of employees to keep them focussed through the inevitable obstacles and learning processes

Stuart Rose’s crusade to position Marks & Spencer at the cutting edge of responsibility is a clear example of this. He has given the company five years to tackle five major challenges around climate change, waste, sustainable raw materials, fair partnership and health. Sending out a message loud and clear to all employees (and consumers) that this is the way forward; he calls this “‘Plan A’, (because there is no plan B)”, a clear call to action but one not without risk. Undeniably this stance illustrates Roses’ strategic road map for the direction of the company which helps all involved to focus their energies on how best to get there. This moral highroad has also gained M&S a distinct first mover advantage in the UK amongst retailers; the challenge for them now will be how to maintain this lead.  Our ‘Branding for Good’ research, to be revealed at our Summit on 6th March, confirms how ‘Plan A’ is having a positive effect on how the brand makes consumers feel.

The gold standard for ethical coffee in the US, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, is an inspiring example of a company that drives growth through internal training on ethical practices.  Nearly a quarter of employees are sent to Mexico/Central America to foster personal connections with farming communities – gaining an understanding of local issues and training farmers on how to improve their products to better meet consumer expectations. The business results for ‘doing good’ are compelling: Green Mountain reported last quarter 2007 – net income increase of 20% to $2.9 million and revenue up 52% to $126.4 million.  They were also awarded the number one spot on the CRO’s (thecro.com) list, “100 Best Corporate Citizens of 2007.”

The challenge for all companies is to set out a compelling and motivating vision to engage the hearts and minds of their people and galvanise the employee community to set out on the ethical journey. Employees should be considered as one of your key stakeholders to be engaged at the start of building your ethical strategy. In the words of Gary Hirschberg of Stonyfield Farm “My advice to other business leaders and entrepreneurs is never underestimate the power of doing good.  It’s the most powerful force out there.  Right action creates a stream of positive side effects, including tangible financial rewards”.

Marie Ridgley
Managing Director – Added Value UK

This column was written in collaboration with Leslie Pascaud, Director Responsible Marketing, Added Value France

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