The Iceberg Principle of CSR

The Iceberg Principle of CSR

Consider the tip of an iceberg. When we see these imposing cliffs of white ice, it’s amazing to realize that we’re only seeing about 10 percent of their total mass. No matter how big it is, 90 percent of the ice mass is hidden. In many ways, a corporate social responsibility program is like an iceberg; there is always going to be that 10 percent that is most visible. However, to ensure that your most conspicuous efforts are taken seriously, you need a strong foundation to support them. The most essential part of your program – that which reinforces its credibility – is often buried in the invisible 90 percent beneath the waterline.

When building an effective program for corporate social responsibility or corporate sustainability (we’ll use CSR going forward), one of the first things to do is determine the main objective. This includes identifying your key audience, such as your shareholders, customers, employees, the non-profit community, etc. You may find that you have multiple objectives and more than one audience, but keep in mind a main goal and a primary audience regardless.

For example, a consumer products company may set as its main goal to produce a leading green product, and by extension, their key audience is the customer they are trying to attract. That does not mean that the company won’t need to communicate effectively with internal leadership about the value of the larger CSR effort, with shareholders about the value it is producing, with employees on how this affects them, and with external stakeholders on partnerships and reputational initiatives.

By working through a 360 review of your program, decision makers can determine what amount of the iceberg is going to sit above the waterline, i.e. the focal point of their sustainability program. This is an important discovery, but to be successful, companies must also focus on strengthening the foundation. To create a strong CSR program, a company needs to be certain that it has the support of all of the stakeholders that have an impact on the program’s success, including:

  • Company Leadership. The leadership will provide the authorization for any effort undertaken; without their support you cannot build a successful program with the potential to succeed over the long term. That means you need to make sure you know what is critical to your leadership and incorporate it into your overall strategy and budget.
  • Shareholders. Shareholders are only relevant in a public company, but where they exist, they are likely to have a major impact on the value of the company and by extension, the corporate strategy and direction. They will look at your program in terms of risk and opportunity, so ensure the CSR strategy addresses those concerns.
  • Employees. No matter the strategy or goals, your employees make it go. An employee engagement plan ensures that you are including them and communicating effectively with them.
  • Non-Profit Partners. You might have pre-existing partners or you may need a non-profit partner to help ensure the success of your consumer strategy. Identifying the key external leaders and then engaging them is critical to the success of your CSR strategy.
  • Customers. Now that you’ve figured out the rest, you can focus on building your product strategy and determining how you plan to reach your customer. You can do this because you’ve built a strong, multi-faceted CSR strategy that is capable of providing the strategic and financial cover needed, and the leadership support that is essential to achieving your objectives.

Looking at your CSR strategy as an iceberg, you should identify the key elements needed to build that strong foundation so that you can focus on creating the more visible part that sits above the waterline.  By successfully determining a clear strategy for leadership, demonstrating ROI to your shareholders, engaging your employees, and communicating with other stakeholders, you will significantly improve your chances of success.  This is the essence of the amplification method we use at EarthPeople Media. For program support, contact us for a consultation.

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