Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility in Retail

Corporate social responsibility: giving back to society

Corporate social responsibility is one of the most effective and meaningful ways for a business to give back to the society in which it operates. By virtue of their size and impact, corporations have an even greater responsibility than other companies to acknowledge and respond to their impact on the world around them.

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What is corporate social responsibility?

Businesses of all kinds and sizes bring wealth and opportunity to the societies in which they operate, but they also affect those societies in a variety of ways. Sometimes these effects - economic, social, environmental (ESG) - are negative ones. A company that operates without any apparent concern for these social issues may enjoy a healthy turnover but those profits may come with corrosive longer term consequences, including sinking staff morale, bad publicity and disruptive legislation.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an operational model with an enticing value proposition: it offers a way for successful, well-established companies to use their economic power for social good, while protecting their reputation, brand and longer-term best interests. It allows businesses to express accountability - to their own staff, to their suppliers and business partners, and to the world at large.

CSR can take different forms, depending on the industry in which the company operates. Typical forms include:

  • Donating to charity.
  • Promoting charitable causes or other socially beneficial organisations.
  • Encouraging employees to volunteer their time for good causes.
  • Committing to minimise or eliminate any environmental damage resulting from their operation.

The importance of corporate social responsibility

Firms practising CSR acknowledge the effects their operations may have on society and the environment and attempt to address them. They make an ongoing effort to conduct business in a way that makes a positive contribution to the world, rather than a negative one.

The benefits flow inward as well. A socially responsible corporation will most likely benefit from a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce, with a healthy sense of connection to the world around them. More often than not, better staff morale translates into increased turnover and better profit margins in the long term.

CSR provides an additional benefit, both to the companies engaging in this practice and to the world at large. Larger, well established firms with a strong brand have influence: practising CSR sets a good example to other firms in their sector and to the business world in general, encouraging further uptake while enhancing the original company’s reputation.

CSR is sometimes referred to as corporate citizenship. While CSR is typically the domain of large, well-established companies, there is nothing to stop smaller firms also engaging in this beneficial business practice if they have the resources to do so.

There is certainly no shortage of inspiring corporate social responsibility examples in the retail sector. Let’s examine a few.


Corporate social responsibility in retail example: H&M

Clothing retailer H&M were the unanimous winner of the Infor Responsible Retailer Award at the 2021 Retail Week awards in recognition of the company’s ongoing efforts to increase the environmental sustainability of its operations.

These efforts include:

  • A garment collection initiative, encouraging customers to donate used clothing for recycling. By 2019 an impressive 29,000 tonnes had been collected for reuse: a 40% increase on the previous year.
  • An innovation laboratory to explore the use of new production processes and materials with a lower environmental impact than more traditional approaches to garment-making. Alternative materials include citrus peel, algae and pineapple leaf.
  • A transparency pledge for all products listed on the retailer’s primary ecommerce site, with the goal of providing details of the location where every product sold was manufactured, as well as the number of workers involved. To date transparency data has been added to more than 7,000 products.

H&M is the first fashion retailer of its size to have made such a large and costly commitment to product transparency, and this has attracted praise from industry observers. The fashion chain explained that the aim of their efforts was to ‘make our business model more sustainable to secure long term growth and, at the same time, make a positive contribution to the world’.


Corporate social responsibility in retail example: Thorntons 

Derbyshire-based luxury chocolate retailer Thorntons is a keen practitioner of CSR and is involved in multiple ongoing initiatives.

The company has long term relationships with community, social development and medical charities for which staff are encouraged to volunteer and raise funds. Thorntons also works hard to minimise the environmental impact of its operations. Efforts include:

  • Stringent waste management and recycling procedures, with zero landfill as the company’s ultimate goal. Recycling champions are appointed for each store.
  • Active participation in a national initiative to reduce water consumption across the food and drink industry.
  • A serious commitment to saving energy. Thorntons has already exceeded climate change targets set by the Food and Drink Federation, as well as reducing gas and electricity consumption by more than 10% per year.


Corporate social responsibility in retail example: Greggs

Popular bakery chain Greggs has grown from a single store in 1930s Newcastle to more than 1600 outlets – and alongside this accelerating success the firm has developed an inspiring range of CSR programmes.

First and foremost in these initiatives is the company’s own charity – the Greggs Foundation. Both customers and staff members are encouraged to raise funds for the Foundation, which donates to community projects local to each store. Meanwhile, Greggs Breakfast Club contributes to school breakfast clubs providing meals for underprivileged children before normal school hours. 

Greggs has also made substantial donations to BBC Children in Need and children’s cancer research.

In addition to its charitable ventures, the bakery giant is involved in a number of training and development projects for people struggling to find work. These include:

  • Ready to Work: interview and employment training for ex-offenders.
  • A Taste of Greggs: work experience placement for unemployed young people.
  • Work Programme: work experience and paid work placements for the long-term unemployed.

 Greggs has also launched multiple environmental initiatives. These include:

  •  The installation of solar panels on a growing number of stores to generate electricity and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Significant efforts to reduce landfill and increase recycling across all Greggs stores.
  • The use of innovative technologies in multiple stores – including more energy-efficient refrigeration equipment and heating systems that recycle waste heat from other equipment.

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