Formalizing a CR Strategy Can Help Dial Up Peformance

The following is an excerpt from a chapter Kathryn Caulfield wrote for “Driving Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR Leaders on Strategies for Increasing Profit and Sustainable Business.” Kathryn is vice president of Global Corporate Communications & Corporate Responsibility for Clorox. In 2013, ExecRank named Kathryn a Top Communications Executive for 2012.

Corporate responsibility has been at the core of our company since its founding in 1913; it is part of our DNA and rests on a set of core values that guide us in everything we do. The trust that has come with that is a foundation on which we have grown our business for one hundred years. At the same time, we must continue to earn trust. This became clear to us with the acquisition of Burt’s Bees natural personal care and the launch of Green Works® naturally derived cleaners. These two actions significantly increased attention on Clorox, with a particular focus on our environmental sustainability performance and reputation, and drove home for us the link between corporate responsibility and reputation, highlighting a tremendous communication opportunity.

As a first step in responding to this situation, we conducted a global reputation survey to better understand external stakeholders’ knowledge and perceptions about us. We wanted to understand our strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Through this exercise, we learned that many people did not know us well, or had misperceptions about the company. We learned that while Clorox has a tremendous legacy of doing good things for our communities, has a solid environmental track record, and has historically produced solid financial results with effective governance, because it was not our company’s “personality” to trumpet our performance, stakeholders knew little about us.

In addition to the survey, we also took an inventory of corporate responsibility activities across the company, with a corresponding assessment of our performance and our degree of transparency. From our inventory of activities, we learned that there was tremendous work going on across the company. At the same time, we identified several areas where we could clearly step up to drive our performance much harder. For example, the company had strong programs in place and was well recognized for its transparency, diversity programs, and U.S. workforce representation, philanthropy through the company’s foundation and progress against several eco strategies. The work on our strategy helped us dial up efforts to embed eco criteria into core business processes, drive environmental sustainability initiatives harder in the workplace, and better communicate our community and cause programs as a total company.

To communicate effectively, we realized we needed a framework to help us articulate what we were doing. That is what led us, in 2009, to establish a formal corporate responsibility strategy that is integrated into our business and reflects the ESG areas we have identified as priorities based on internal and external feedback. Formalizing our strategy has helped us identify new focus areas, set performance targets, and better integrate CR into our business. The overarching goal of our CR strategy is to leverage environmental, social, and governance performance to help drive long-term, sustainable value creation for the company’s stakeholders. It is also fundamental to the move we have made toward integrated reporting and our overall communication strategy.

Read more from Kathryn’s chapter Transparently Linking Business-Driven Corporate Responsibility to Value Creation to get her thoughts on researching CR initiatives, the role of C-level individuals in CR initiatives and communicating transparently.

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