Social Responsibility vs Total Societal Impact

One of the most common types of PR campaigns is the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) model. Through a CSR campaign, companies align themselves with a societal issue to help cultivate public awareness, generate funds or develop solutions. By doing this, businesses can show stakeholders that it holds a place of responsibility within its community.

An example of a company with an ongoing CSR campaign is Allstate and the Allstate Purple Purse Foundation. The campaign began in 2005 to generate awareness about financial abuse and provide help for survivors of domestic violence. The campaign has invested more than $60 million in survivors nationwide and helped 1.3 million people become financially independent.

However, CSR campaigns may not be as impactful due to the rise of issues in the world today. Wendy Woods, a senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group, says that companies need to start focusing on total societal impact (TSI). By Woods’ definition, TSI is all the different ways businesses can help society through its design process, manufacturing, distribution and beyond. So unlike CSR campaigns which help a societal issue outside of the company, TSI incorporates social and environmental considerations into all areas of business.

Levis Strauss & Co. is an example of a company using TSI. In 2011, the company launched “Water<Less” to reduce the amount of water used in the manufacturing of their clothes. Some ways that the company has achieved this is by removing water from stone washes or combined different wet cycle processes. Currently, 25 percent of Levi products are made using the “Water<Less” techniques and the company hopes to raise this to 80 percent by 2020.

According to Woods, companies that use TSI have increased premium margins and higher evaluations compared to companies that don’t. Woods also says that 75 percent of investors expect to see improved revenue and operating efficiency among companies that use TSI. This demonstrates that there are business benefits for doing good.

Another example of TSI usage is Airbnb. During and after a natural disaster, Airbnb asks their community of hosts to open up their homes to those who may have lost their own homes or those aiding in crisis relief efforts. By doing this, the company broadens their platform by exposing people to their company who may not have used it before while simultaneously providing help in crisis situations.

While TSI spills over into a much larger part of business than a CSR campaign, TSI could be the best way for business to make an impact on society. Just like proposing a CSR campaign, PR professionals can propose TSI strategies that bring creative and innovative ideas to all areas of the company. As the importance of social responsibility is placed on business, do you think more companies will implement TSI into their business model?


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