Christi C. McGee
Coca Cola Consolidated

Years ago, when I was early in my career in Washington, D.C., (pre-Internet, I know!) the very last thing I heard of was a company, association, or non-profit incorporating a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy. Let’s be honest, until Bono introduced the One Campaign, I really wasn’t paying too much attention to the hip “trend” of CSR. Does anyone else remember those INSPI(RED) t-shirts?

Wow, how times have changed.

With the explosion of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, consumers demand more from business and industry; there’s an expectation to do good. And, there is simply nowhere to hide your corporate and brand reputation.

Today, businesses are either already implementing some sort of a CSR program (no longer a trend or a competitive advantage) or trying to figure out how to develop one. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust, “81 percent of consumers link purchases to trust of the brand. I must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.”

Most definitions of corporate social responsibility include elements of philanthropy and volunteer efforts to affect societal change and impact. Increasingly, frustration with either too much or too little government intervention is also influencing companies and brands to develop CSR programs to vocalize their beliefs on certain policies or issues. A recent New York Times article reported that, “companies also are under pressure from customers and shareholders to demonstrate a broader sense of responsibility for the long-term health of the communities in which they operate. Some 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies issued reports last year describing the environmental and social impacts of their businesses (Editorial Board, 2019, September 17. Forcing Companies to Be Good).”

Niall Fitzgerald, former CEO of Unilever, sums it up this way: “Corporate Social Responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is a nice thing to do or because people are forcing us to do it, [but] because it is good for our business.”

One of the best ways to understand a CSR strategy is to take a deeper dive from the inside. I’m incredibly blessed to share my experience at Coca-Cola Consolidated and our approach to CSR, or as we say, our culture and community engagement. It’s important to first understand who we are:

Our Purpose to Honor God, Serve Others, Pursue Excellence, and Grow Profitably remains the cornerstone of our Company and our Culture. We aspire to have a Purpose-driven organization, led by Servant Leaders focused on the development on the minds, bodies and spirits of our teammates and partners.

As the nation’s largest bottler, Coke Consolidated employs nearly 17,000 teammates, operates in 14 states and Washington, D.C., and refreshes over 66 million consumers. But what makes us truly unique in the Coca-Cola System is our culture and Purpose-driven business execution. At our core, we lead from the heart – whether that is making, selling, and distributing the greatest brands and beverages in the world, or supporting our local communities and teammates.

We value giving back as much as we value the pursuit of excellence and commitment to grow profitability. Our approach is to serve, to care and to change lives for the better at the local level. We have a committee structure in our facilities that identifies, evaluates, and supports the programs that directly impact their communities.

Corporately, we recently created a sustainability task-force to review business practices and innovations to continue lowering our carbon footprint, operating some of the most water-efficient plants in the US, recycling our raw materials during the manufacturing process, and recapturing as much of our packaging as possible for re-use. And most importantly, we are transparent about our approach.

Our intentions, whether large or small, must be done organically and authentically. Navigating how to talk about your CSR efforts is critical. For us, this is the foundation – it does not matter how much programming we provide or how much we donate to charities and non-profits, if our own teammates and stakeholders do not trust that we are doing the right thing because it is simply the right thing to do, then we fail. If what we are doing is viewed solely as a marketing tool, then we fail.

The Edelman Study also reports that, “consumers rank trust with product, brand, and company attributes as an essential buying consideration and expect brands to keep their promises by taking action that makes a real difference.” When our actions and values align both internally and externally, we believe our people, brands, and business grow.

Building social good, with a focus on the triple bottom line: people, the planet, and profits should be a rallying-cry in every board room. “Creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals – they are both essential ingredients for long-term success.” – Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company.

Companies and industries must anticipate change to be competitive. How do you adapt your CSR strategy to address trends on the horizon? Some questions come to mind:

• How does employee engagement in CSR programs affect retention?

• Should businesses consider allowing employees “gap time” to volunteer? Will the next generation of employees simply expect this from companies?

• How active will CSR be in the C-Suite?

• What impacts will the supply chain feel as consumers increasingly want to see products sourced using sustainable materials and practices?

• How do you include diversity, equality and inclusion in a CSR strategy?

• How will technology impact CSR?

Whether your organization is starting to create and implement a CSR strategy or already thinking about the next chapter, remember, “…to build and sustain brands people love and trust, one must focus—not only on today but also on tomorrow.” Irene B. Rosenfeld, former CEO of Kraft.