CSR strategies look good but could always do more

Nike has a bad reputation when it comes to its overseas labour practices, but last week the sportswear brand published its corporate responsibility report, in which it openly admitted that these labour issues do exist.

Companies such as Nike are finally waking up to the financial and brand-building benefits of integrating CSR into wider company policy, and designers play an important part in this process.

According to David Worthington, managing director of Conran Design Group, CSR is key to the way design groups and clients will collaborate in the future. ‘By late next year, if a designer wants to work for BT, Orange or Shell, you will have to demonstrate that you are willing to work with their values and this means adopting those values yourself,’ he says.

CDG designed Orange’s CSR report, which was published in March, and it is currently working with Shell to address these issues. ‘Designers are aware of the impact we have on the world. But this new legislation has helped to crystallise these previously random ideas into something that is now becoming a mainstream approach,’ adds Worthington.

Alistair Sim, managing director of Love, which recently designed Nike’s Community Affairs report, says, ‘Today’s consumer will only engage with brands whose values match their own. This is why, in a rapidly fragmented market, we are seeing the rise of smaller niche brands, with real “stories” that consumers can believe in.’

Sim thinks that the increasing emphasis on CSR is very good for the future of design. ‘It means we will have more control over client briefs and they will use the designers that have the best ideas in this area. I think that it will generate more work for us.’

Worthington agrees, ‘It invariably will produce more work for us as it’s a lifelong learning process. It’s not something you complete and then forget about; you can always do more in this area.’

But does the responsibility to integrate CSR thinking into design rest with the client or the design consultancy? Gilmar Wendt, creative director at SAS, thinks it rests with both. ‘If the client hasn’t thought about it then we should push the issue. Some businesses are really embracing CSR, so it is important that they expand their strategy to include it,’ he explains.

SAS has recently produced Scottish Power’s Environmental and Social Impact Report and a book for BT, which has topped the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for four consecutive years. ‘BT used to produce an advertisement every year, but we decided it needed to do something different, so we designed a book that compiled all sorts of facts about sustainability. This approach illustrates the theory that you shouldn’t shout about the work that you do, you should just get on and do it,’ says Wendt.

He adds, ‘We are doing a lot of work in this area and I think it potentially opens the door for more creativity, which is very exciting.’

Corporate and Social responsibility

• Nine principles of CSR cover ethics, employment practices, community involvement and environmental protection, as defined by the Social Venture Network.

• Discussions on CSR at European Union level date back to 1995, when the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, launched a Manifesto of Enterprises against Social Exclusion.

• The manifesto resulted in the establishment of CSR Europe – a business-driven network to help promote socially responsible behaviour within European companies.

• Summer 2001 – European Commission published first green paper on CSR.

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