Posts filed under ‘social responsibility’

Doing good and doing well

Vera Kiss writes:

In his controversial 1970 New York Times article, Milton Friedman set the tone for a generation when he argued that the sole responsibility of businesses was to generate profit for their shareholders. But today’s Millennials disagree. Even those in corporate ranks. A recent Deloitte survey of a thousand Millennial employees of the firm reveals that 92% reject the idea that the sole measure of a company’s success is profit.

Importantly, more than 50% believe the primary purpose of business is innovation and societal development. This resonates with the Futures Company’s 2011 Global MONITOR survey, which found that 63% of Millennials believe that companies have a responsibility to support the society in which they operate.

Of course, not all Millennials are engaged with social issues. The Futures Company’s Millennial segmentation reveals significant variation between four global groups of Millennials. Against a global average of 62%, 55% of ‘Striders’ and 43% of ‘Satellites’ consider it important in their lives to make a difference. 76% of ‘Steppers’ and 85% of ‘Spirits’, in contrast, agree with this statement. Spirits, the poster children of the generation, stand out for their interest in global and local issues and are concerned with the ethics of consumption.

Millennial attitudes towards business tell us two stories. One now familiar story is about higher expectations of ethical conduct. The newer story is about the increasing appeal of business-inspired and even business-led solutions for global challenges.

We have seen a proliferation of business-inspired initiatives in the development sphere. Microfinance organizations have mushroomed around the world, pinning the hopes of poverty reduction on micro-entrepreneurs and small scale businesses. Websites such as Kiva provide easy connection between micro-donors and entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Importantly, the corporate sector is increasingly drawn into addressing societal issues through solutions that are designed to do long-term good while also being profitable. The founder of microfinance, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, now tours the world engaging big business in social enterprise initiatives that seek to maximise their social impact rather than shareholder returns. He has already partnered with Danone to address childhood malnutrition in Bangladesh through a business selling fortified yoghurt products. Inclusive business strategies are also gaining visibility, with development agencies partnering with large companies to include bottom of the pyramid consumers as small investors and suppliers.

Business-influenced strategies won’t provide all-encompassing solutions to global issues, or replace public and non-governmental organisations. The point is that businesses can increasingly act as legitimate agents of social change. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as surprise (especially given the sample) that most respondents to the Deloitte survey think that business has the greatest potential of any sector to achieve societal change.

This creates opportunities for businesses and brands to connect with socially conscious Millennials – but they have to understand the differences within the cohort, and be able to demonstrate real impact through their business practices.

The picture of the Danone Grameen logo on the side of its factory at Bogra is from the Danone Communities Flickr photostream, and it is used with thanks.

12 March 2012 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

From cash to commitment

Amy Tomkins writes:

Tackling climate change requires collective action. Yet inspiring consumers to change their behaviour is tough. Lack of engagement, lack of understanding and a sense of powerlessness can all prevent people from taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints.

So I was interested in the presentation that Hermione Taylor, founder of The DoNation, gave when she came into the London office recently. Her new sponsorship site seeks to replace cash with action and help people inspire their friends to live more sustainably. By harnessing the social and viral nature of sponsorship, The DoNation encourages people to engage with environmental issues and take action to change their behaviour. As her diagrams above show, this changes the traditional sponsorship model and makes the whole transaction more direct and efficient. To sponsor a friend, you have to commit to at least one of a number of Do-Actions, or carbon-saving pledges, instead of giving money. Actions can be small steps, such as reducing the amount of meat you eat each week, or more significant, such as committing to installing solar panels.

By using friends seeking sponsorship as messengers, The DoNation aims to reach people who know they should do more for the environment, but need a nudge to inspire action. Sponsors have to commit to their action for two months, with the hope that it will become an ingrained habit. Early indicators suggest that some longer term behaviour change has been prompted, but time will tell if Hermione’s vision is realised.

Looking to the future, The DoNation raises an interesting challenge – does the key to environmental behaviour change lie in making it personal? Whether it be supporting a friend; saving money through energy efficiency or improving your immediate living environment, providing a personal connection point seems essential if people are going to reappraise their own behaviour and start to live more sustainable.  Governments, companies and third sector organisations need to understand better the personal motivations to being more environmentally aware if they are to help achieve a sustainable global future.

You can visit The DoNation at

19 August 2011 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

The limits to ethical business

Eloise Keightley writes:

Consumers may claim they want ethical brands – but what do they really mean? American evidence suggests that a desire to be ethical does not necessarily correlate with a propensity to buy ethical: Brandweek has reported a survey that found that even among consumers who called themselves “environmentally conscious”, more than half could not name a single green brand. A study at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management found that while people were likely to buy energy efficient light bulbs from the shops, they tended to opt for less efficient traditional bulbs when shopping online – and this attitude extends to white goods, electronics and domestic cleaning products. There is a classic disconnect here between stated attitudes and actual knowledge or behaviour.

This is partly because of the nebulous way in which “ethicalness” is measured, from the consumer’s point of view. For instance, whilst a vague sense of altruism may drive consumers to make choices they deem ethical, it’s unlikely that the majority fully understand what ethical trademarks denote. There is a recognition that Fair Trade, for example, equates with some sort of ethical standard but consumers often cannot define what that standard is. Consumers also find it hard to distinguish between ethical trademarks and can confuse their policies.

In any case, ethical innovation has historically proven to have a limited shelf life – due as much to legislative progress as shifting consumer values. Only a few years ago, cosmetic brands in particular were falling over themselves to tell consumers that their products were developed without the need for animal testing. These days, few brands bother. Lack of animal testing has become a hygiene factor (mainly due to changes in legislation) and consumers have established new, less standardised and more subjective ethical benchmarks for brands to respond to.

It’s unfortunate that the value of ethical trademarks deflate the more ubiquitous they become. If McDonalds can win awards for its free range eggs, consumers may well wonder about the rigour of free range certification and imagine that ‘free range’ is a tiered or varied notion. Bad press also dilutes the currency of ethical initiatives: the BBC has accused Live Aid of misappropriating the money it raised and there has been a rise in well-publicised literature that calls into question the very nature of humanitarian aid. We have no commonly understood, credible metric for ethics.

Some pioneers of ethical retail have argued that it is not enough to use ethical standards as a USP.  American Apparel CEO Dov Charney, whose business is synonymous with the anti-sweatshop movement, has remarked: “If you want to sell something, ethical or otherwise, appeal to people’s self-interest.” In other words, brands need to marry sound ethical values with products that are inherently desirable if they are to last.

The picture at the top of the post is from Green Mountain Coffee, and is used with thanks.

12 May 2010 at 6:41 pm 1 comment

The end of the line?


Camilla Parke writes:

I must admit that I sat a little uncomfortably through the opening minutes of The End of the Line, the documentary screened on World Oceans Day, in which violent shots of blood drenched waters were interplayed with images of bloated Europeans gorging on sushi. My guilt is not misplaced; as an unquestioning consumer I have contributed to the problem journalist Charles Clover uncovers in this film: the little known damage that overfishing is doing to the world’s oceans. Significant improvements in fishing technology, huge increases in consumer demand and poorly enforced, inadequate quotas have decimated our seas. The impact on biodiversity is alarming: if overfishing continues at its current rate, scientists predict we will be out of most fish by 2048.

The plight of one endangered species in particular – Bluefin tuna – was explored in the film, and the press this week have focused on those retailer and restaurateurs that have (and have not) responded to calls to find more sustainable alternatives. A number of places are getting it right, and have been for some time – Feng Sushi in London’s Borough market has been sustainably sourcing its fish for the last 10 years. But for larger companies, the challenges are more significant.

Japanese restaurant Nobu seem unfazed by petitions from its celebrity diners to remove Bluefin from its menus, content to mention its endangered status on the menu and discretely suggests diners choose an alternative. Others are responding more proactively: Marks and Spencer has committed to only using pole and line caught tuna in its entire range of products; Pret a Manger is making a similar commitment.

Alongside the statistics, one of the most powerful learnings from the film is the fact that it is still possible to reverse the fortune of our oceans – as Clover points out, the answer is ‘not rocket science’. Although one hurdle is the inadequacy of current policy, one of the most important things we can do as consumers is to make more noise. Ask shops and restaurants how fish is sourced, and avoid those that are unsustainable. This really means thinking more and consuming less – a challenge given our love affair with eating fish. But if we don’t want to go hungry in the future, do we really have any other choice?

The photo at the top is borrowed, with thanks, from the End Of The Line website.

11 June 2009 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Repairing the material world


Emily Pitts writes:

Demos’s recently launched ‘It’s a material world’ argues for the social value of heritage conservation, at a time when budgets for conservation courses are being slashed and the future of the discipline seems threatened. It calls for a national conservation strategy that includes education in schools, involves local communities in preserving the public realm, more support from government and a call to arms directed at professionals in the conservation and cultural sectors. If we don’t make the effort to be inclusive in how we look after the public realm, they argue, and make choices collectively about what to conserve, then social capital also declines.

An increasing interest in preserving social capital and a renewed vigour in community life is something we have been tracking for a little while, and early signs are that the economic downturn is increasing the extent to which we think of collective good. According to Yankelovich Monitor, 41% of American consumers define being a good citizen as ‘Not buying a home that is larger than you really need to help reduce energy usage’ compared to 34% just a year ago. Our data from the UK, whilst not directly comparable, hints at a similar sense of personal empowerment and responsibility, with the majority of consumers agreeing with the statement ‘I feel that I can make a difference to the world around me through the choices I take and the actions I make’. Interest in community life is also strong; according to our Planning for Consumer Change survey, since 2005 more people agree that the quality of life is better improved by looking after the interests of the community than those of the individual.

With changing attitudes towards community in evidence, the time might be right for the cultural sector, and conservation in particular, to push away from the individualistic outlook of the early ’00s and emerge in the schoolrooms and town halls of every community as a mainstay of our society. But is it possible for conservators to be more professional and more inclusive of the public at the same time, as Demos asks? Resolving conflict between public priorities and those of the experts could prove tricky, but rather than seeing these clashes of opinion as either/or tradeoffs, can we instead look to them as latent energy areas for future innovation?

The image is of the filming of the final of the BBC series ‘Restoration’ Village‘at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. More images can be found on their Flickr site.

22 December 2008 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

The power of ‘we’

Becky Rowe writes:

I’ve been in Australia for a few days for a client project and one of things I have noticed (aside from the jetlag and great weather) is the constant reference across all kinds of public communications to ‘us’, ‘we’, ‘together’, ‘you’, and ‘community’.

New building projects mention ‘helping our communities grow stronger’, while ‘no alcohol’ signs on the beaches explain why it is beneficial to everyone if you don’t drink your beers on the beach. The taxi rank at the airport had a large sign which communicated clearly and simply what you could ask of your taxi driver, and what he could expect of you (you are entitled to ask your driver to turn on or off the radio or aircon, and to take a different route, but you aren’t allowed to be drink or eat in the cab).

The prevalence of these signs, the explicit wording, and clear reference to shared responsibilities, all communicated in a friendly and understandable way, somehow surprised me. In some ways I found them a bit patronising, but I also found it refreshing to have ‘the rules’ of ‘good citizenship’ made clear.

Knowing the rationale behind an apparently bureacratic or even irrational rule can make all the difference to compliance. I think the UK has something to learn from the Australians about how to behave – and how to get people to behave.

15 May 2008 at 9:29 pm 1 comment

Environmental damage a modern day sin


Amy Esser writes:

In recent years the noise around environmental sustainability has increased, and society mostly now acknowledges its part in damaging the planet. Despite this, we are not yet seeing significant changes in behaviour to reverse the damage and help preserve our planet for the future.

Sadly it seems that even the prospect of environmental Armageddon is not enough to prompt real action or even divert our moral compasses. If we as individuals are lacking motivation and desire to make the changes ourselves then who needs to take the lead? Perhaps sensing that faith could make a difference, the Vatican announced earlier this month that environmental pollution and damage is a modern day sin.

Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, said – in language that was largely misunderstood in the (non-Catholic) English media – that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. Whereas sin in the past was thought of as being an individual matter, it now has “social resonance”.

Bishop Girotti told L’Osservatore Romano,

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos”.

The effect of this interpretation will take time to manifest itself. Perhaps it is more interesting to see the re-emergence of old authorities in response to more turbulent times.

Image source:,,30200-1308679,00.html

28 March 2008 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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