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JenTang
in Malaysia by

If you think CSR is too idealistic, you need to think again

The role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is evolving and it’s becoming no longer an option for companies to be socially aware and responsible for their actions in the community. Marketing spoke with Jennifer Tang, director of corporate affairs, Asia, Middle East and Africa at Levi Strauss & Co. about how CSR can be part of a practical long term vision.

Marketing: Is CSR simply a branding exercise?

Not at all. CSR is fundamentally doing good in the community. It has to be a company-wide strategy, benefitting and embedded in all functions.Over the long term, CSR improves brand equity by meeting the needs of future consumers and drives new thinking on product and business models. Companies with successful CSR programs also attract and retain talent.

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) takes a lifecycle approach to understand how we can reduce the environmental impact of our products. We are pioneering practices to reduce the use of energy, water, chemicals and other materials in the apparel industry.

[Tang will be sharing more on CSR at the PR Asia conference on 9-10 November at the Shangri Hotel Singapore, more details here.]

Marketing: Is long term CSR too idealistic for many businesses today?

I think idealism is a good thing.  If intent is sincere, then actions that follow are sincere.

That is why companies that start off by integrating CSR as a key strategy of their business have more sustainable plans and make a larger impact in the community and ultimately on their business. CSR reinforces companies’ commitment to the communities where they operate and supports the reputation as a values-driven company with a deep-rooted legacy of giving back.

Many successful businesses are benefiting from their long term CSR programs. The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) Campaign is an outstanding example. The BCA Campaign has been running for 24 years, with the Pink Ribbon as the universal symbol for breast health.

The Campaign has created a global movement through enhancing awareness, raising funds and inspiring meaningful action in the fight against breast cancer. It’s proven to be a successful business CSR strategy that really connects emotionally with women, men and their families across the globe, meanwhile, enhances brand equity and drives sales holistically for more than two decades.

Marketing: Many companies are doing the bare minimum when it comes to CSR. How can senior management be convinced of the business value of the triple bottom line?   

Convincing senior management to support CSR is not difficult if you’re able to establish the strategic alignment of CSR and the business such as building brand image, reputation, talent acquisition and employee engagement.

In Nielsen’s third annual global online survey on corporate social responsibility, more than two-thirds (67%) of respondents say they prefer to work for a socially responsible company, with Millennials most responsive to sustainability actions. 64% of Asia Pacific consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.

It’s advisable to set up a long term vision with specific near-term and mid-term achievable goals. What is more important is that you should be able to lay out specific initiatives to drive these goals. It’s critical to provide facts and common issues that spur long-term value both from managing risk and driving growth.

At P&G, building schools in China (Project Hope) has become a signature cause for the company for the last 20 years.

Endorsed by top management, P&G created its own charity model in a practical and innovative spirit, i.e. starting with P&G and its employees joining hands with business and charity partners, finally, together with consumers, P&G helps children in need to live, learn and thrive. Project Hope set up a very clear 2020 vision at the beginning of building 200 P&G Hope Schools every five years in China.

Marketing: What are top challenges for brands in moving beyond the mindset of short term CSR programs and into CSR culture? What should be the key steps to overcome these?

The biggest challenge is to show that CSR is good for business and not just a “nice to have.” Doing well by doing good takes time. CSR culture becomes embedded into a company when a few things happen:

  • There is a strong commitment to CSR at the top
  • There is a clear CSR strategy to identify the impact the brand wishes to make and the specific elements of that strategy (the action plans)
  • The company affords and leverages its employees to support and drive the CSR programs. In effect the program becomes a living, moving entity that has broad based support
  • Positive impacts of the campaigns are celebrated and highlighted (creates a virtuous cycle)
  • Over time a the brand takes “ownership” of that cause and begins to derive a long term equity benefit
  • The CSR culture ultimately becomes integral to the fabric of that company

Marketing: As well as being environmentally responsible how can fashion brands work to improve the perception of their social responsibilities in regards to labour rights and sweatshops? What steps have you taken with this?

We have an approach in the business where we talk about ‘Profits through Principles.’ That means doing great business, but doing it in the right way. Sometimes it means there are more challenges and it’s more expensive to get things done.

As a company, LS&Co. has strong partnerships with our vendors who all must adhere to our strict standards in safety and quality of life for workers. In fact, in 1991, we became the first multinational apparel company to establish a workplace code of conduct for our manufacturing suppliers. We call this code our Terms of Engagement, and it specifies the health and safety standards, ethical requirements and environmental practices these suppliers must follow.

We’ve been doing that for 25 years. We also employ a team of full-time factory assessors around the world who conduct regular assessments of every factory contracted to manufacture our products to ensure they are meeting our strict standards.

Just recently, on October 13, LS&Co. announced a new commitment to expand its pioneering Worker Well-being initiative both within and outside the company. By 2025, the company will aim to:

  • Expand Worker Well-being to reach more than 300,000 workers
  • Implement the program with all strategic vendors
  • Produce more than 80 percent of its product volume in Worker Well-being factories

Marketing: The “Water<Less” collection by Levi’s affect a range of products but not all, are there plans to increase this sustainable process to all products or is this act of choice from the consumer important to empower them?

The Water<Less techniques were introduced by the Levi’s designers in 2011 and reduce the water used in garment finishing by up to 96 percent. Since implementation, Water<Less techniques have helped the company save more than 1 billion liters of water. In March 2016, we made the Water<Less finishing techniques available to the public in an effort to encourage water conservation and create impactful change across the apparel industry. By 2020, 80 percent of all LS&Co. products will be made with Water<Less techniques.

LS&Co. has been a leading driver of change around water use in the apparel industry for more than 20 years. It has also been vocal in raising awareness about the role consumers play. In 2007 and again in 2015 the company conducted the industry’s first life-cycle assessment to understand the water impact of its core products. The findings resulted in the creation of the Company’s Care Tag for the Planet, which can be found on all LS&Co. products and provides garment care instructions to help consumers save water.

We also launched “Are You Ready to Come Clean” consumer quiz to help raise awareness about the benefits of washing jeans less frequently. LS&Co. was also one of the founding members of the Better Cotton Initiative and created the apparel industry’s first Water Recycle/Reuse standard.

Marketing: If CSR should organically encompass an entire company’s culture and how it operates including involving all employees and many are doing away with ‘CSR departments’ then how and where should brand’s start on this road?

The “CSR Department” could be (as it is in many cases) not a department but an individual in the Corporate Affairs function, or the Sustainability team, that is the leader or catalyst to guide the CSR strategy into execution company-wide. No matter how organic a culture is, you need a “custodian” or nurturer of that culture. Branding with a heart isn’t something new at all, many brands have been doing that for many years, but how to use CSR as a vessel for a branding strategy is always challenging.

Join Jennifer Tang at on 9-10 November at the PR Asia conference at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore where she will be sharing more on how to communicate your CSR efforts and develop relationships with stakeholders to grow your CSR.

Get in touch with Czarina Solomon on +65 8112 6351 or czarinas@marketing-interactive.com to secure your seat now.