Inspiring examples of corporate social responsibility at work

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) takes many different shapes and forms but is ultimately about companies contributing positively to society and their stakeholders. CSR initiatives range from organizing small community projects to developing comprehensive socially and environmentally sustainable corporate policies to advocating for social justice causes.  

Most importantly, your CSR programs and initiatives should make a positive difference, integrate purpose into the workplace and be relevant to your company’s mission. 

Want concrete examples? These major brands and their successful programs offer inspiration on how you and your people can make positive change.

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1. tentree: Tree planting and community projects 

At this Canadian sustainable clothing company, founded in 2012, CSR is embedded directly into the business model.

For every item they sell, tentree plants 10 trees. When customers make a purchase, they also receive a code to enter into tentree’s website to track where in the world their trees are planted, from Nepal to Canada to Madagascar.

Wherever they plant, tentree also undertakes community projects related to causes like education, clean drinking water, job creation and sustainable development. 

2. Patagonia: Sustainability and environmental impact 

American outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is considered a CSR trailblazer. Founded in 1973, the company has long had a purpose to use its business “to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.” 

They’ve operationalized their purpose by minimizing the environmental footprint, encouraging clothing repair over replacement and imposing an Earth Tax on themselves, which involves giving 1% of sales to environmental organizations.

And most recently, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard transferred ownership of the company, valued at $3 billion, to a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating climate change and protecting undeveloped land around the globe.  

3. BNP Paribas: Employee volunteering and giving 

BNP Paribas, a leading European bank from Switzerland, is developing more robust CSR initiatives with the help of Benevity. One of the central pillars of BNP Paribas’ CSR strategy is employee engagement and solidarity. To develop this pillar, they give employees up to 16 hours (or two working days) to use for volunteer initiatives.  

Offering volunteer time off has led to 40% employee participation and solidified their position as a socially responsible player in the financial industry, all while integrating employee purpose and aspirations into their company’s fabric. 

4. The Walt Disney Company: Social impact relating to children 

The Walt Disney Company is a mass media and entertainment conglomerate that’s repeatedly received awards and accolades for their social initiatives. 

Their list of CSR programs is extensive, but their signature initiatives relate to social impact and the well-being of children. They donate to nonprofits focusing on children and families and offer well-known hospital visits and wish-granting programs. In 2021, Disney donated $294 million to these causes and they currently work with 750 hospitals worldwide. 

5. Nu Skin: Fighting famine and poverty 

Nu Skin is an American personal care products and dietary supplements company that gives back through a variety of initiatives, including a program that provides malnourished children with healthy, nutrient-rich meals.  

Nu Skin customers and employees can purchase meals to be distributed to famine-stricken children by nonprofits specializing in relief distribution. Over 750 million meals have been donated since 2002.  

6. Levi’s: Listening to your people 

Levi’s, a clothing company known for denim jeans, heard from their employees at town halls and company meetings that many of them were being impacted by gun violence. In the past, talking about gun violence was taboo in the CSR world. But Levi’s listened to one of their most important stakeholders — their employees — and their CEO got behind the cause. Levi’s is also a Benevity client.

Levi’s encouraged their people to give back in various ways.

They launched a $1 million grantmaking fund that matched employee donations to organizations addressing gun violence. They allowed their people five hours a month to get behind the cause.

This created incredible organic communications, and in the following year, Levi’s saw a huge spike in revenue that they attribute to their CSR efforts.

Levi’s shows how listening to what your people care about and supporting those causes in a meaningful way can translate to campaigns that are authentic and impactful. 

Looking for even more examples? On The Social Impact Show by Benevity, CSR expert Nicole Campbell discusses more brands successfully executing CSR in their organizations.

Learn about what makes Benevity’s diversity, equity and inclusion work successful, how pharmacy chain CVS Health ceased selling tobacco products, why Nike’s stand for racial justice has been effective and how Lyft responded to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban. 


Ways to implement corporate social responsibility  

There are countless ways to implement CSR initiatives into your business.  

While many of the above companies are quite advanced in their CSR journey, remember CSR can start with just one action. In fact, companies often start with one or two initiatives that develop over time. Whether big or small, taking action is what counts and, ultimately, creates positive impact in the world. 

First, ensure that you’ve defined your CSR strategy, as discussed above. Remember to establish a system that engages and involves your employees as well. Then, you’ll have to decide if you want to build your CSR program with a tool or without a tool. 


Without a tool:

If you choose to implement your CSR initiative without using a specific tool, you’ll need to think about how you can establish a CSR structure that gets your whole company, as well as your customers and stakeholders, involved. 

Once you’ve defined the cause that your company wants to address via a CSR program, you’ll then establish your goals and your success indicators. When your program is ready to implement, you’ll need to focus on communication.

This communication can be done through social media, your website, connecting with third parties and sponsors, organizing promotional events, online and traditional advertising and creating engaging content. 

With a tool:

Nowadays, purpose-built tools exist to help you implement CSR into your business. Benevity provides corporate giving software that’s specifically designed to engage employees in corporate social responsibility initiatives.

It’s a single digital CSR platform that manages all your giving programs and it’s the perfect way for your business to get started with CSR and its benefits

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is failing to engage their employees with CSR initiatives. In fact, the 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study found that 89% of millennials interviewed said they wanted to be active participants in helping their company improve their responsible business practices. 


Who organizes CSR strategies and initiatives? 

This varies greatly depending on the company’s size, specific needs and overall business model. Larger, more established companies will often have a department in charge of CSR or contract a consultant for that specific purpose. However, it can also fall under the umbrella of public relations, marketing, head office or human resources. 

I want to implement CSR initiatives into my workplace but don’t know where to start. What should I do?  

To start off, brainstorm with your team which causes relate to your company’s purpose. Ask yourself questions like: “How can we make a positive social impact as a company?” and “How can we strengthen the broader purpose employees feel when working at our company?” 

Your CSR activities should contribute to positive change and have a positive impact, but nowadays they need to go even further. For CSR programs to be sustainable and give your business a competitive advantage, they should also align with your company’s purpose, incorporate stakeholder feedback, prioritize customer and community engagement, involve associated nonprofit organizations and provide education. This might seem like a lot of factors to consider right off the bat, but don’t worry. You can integrate these long-term considerations over time. 

How do I know what CSR initiatives are right for my workplace? 

Try brainstorming and researching causes that align with your company’s mission. You can do this within your head office, at a board meeting or with all your company’s employees. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, the main goal of CSR should be “to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purposes and values.” 

Need help getting started? 

CSR initiatives often relate to topics covered within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals such as: 

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action