Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business model that allows businesses to enact positive change by being socially accountable to themselves, stakeholders, and the general public. Companies build trust with consumers by choosing to do what is right and typically positively affect their bottom line. Consumers feel that they are doing their part, contributing to society when they utilize the products or services of a socially responsible company. Particularly, Millennials and Generation Z, who are currently becoming the driving force fo the economy, appreciate companies with socially responsible practices. According to a Nielsen poll in 2018, 85% of Millennials and 80% of Gen Z rank the environment at the top of their list when deciding which companies they will engage with. Changing trends and activism driven by millennials greatly influence CSR, and this is evident in companies taking public stances against issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination thanks to the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements. Companies have been speaking out against social injustices and policy changes. More companies are working towards reducing carbon footprint, clean water programs, improving labor policies, charitable giving, participating in fairtrade, volunteering, and other environmentally friendly opportunities such as alternative energy to make their mark in creating a positive impact on the environment.
My personal favorite fast-casual restaurant is an example of a corporate brand with social responsibility programs that feel authentic and create positive associations for their products and services. The Executive Chairman of Panera Bread asserts that the company’s stance on corporate social responsibility is to “bring your humanity to work.” Panera bread started by donating around $150 million a year in food through their Day-End Dough-NationTM program. This was designed to help feed people who rely on local charities for a meal. When Panera closes their bakery-cafes each evening, they gather up unsold bread and bakery goods and donate them to neighborhood shelters and charitable groups. Through their Day-End Dough-Nation program, Panera donates more than $100 million worth of food annually, serving hundreds of thousands of people annually through more than 3,500 local community organizations. However, this was not having the desired impact as one in four children struggle with hunger in the United States. Panera did their research and tested various business models and locations to develop a sustainable, pay-what-you-can community café called Panera Cares. The Panera Bread Foundation launched three nonprofit cafes serving their full menu to communities of both poor and affluent residents – Clayton, Missouri; Dearborn, Michigan, and Portland, Oregon. This created a shared responsibility model so everyone is treated with dignity: those who can pay more do so to cover the cost of those who can’t. Through this program, nearly 12,000 people are fed each week by these three cafes. Panera Bread also acknowledges that dealing with hunger is more than just providing food but also jobs. They have begun job training and work/life skill programs amongst at-risk youth, expecting that this program will soon roll out new cafes. Panera bread also emphasizes clean eating, removing artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources from the menu items. They serve chicken raised without antibiotics, removed all artificial trans fats from their menu items, and voluntarily began posting caloric information on all menu boards.
In reality, the definition of a company’s stakeholders is not the same as before. Stakeholders are now society as the profitability and success of the company largely depend on how willing consumers are to support their business. Panera’s approach, taking small steps, creating shared responsibility, and providing sustainable outcomes narrowly contributes to corporate social responsibility but is admirable and has a remarkable impact on society. They take what the company does best, prepare clean and healthy food, and use that to benefit a situation of critical social needs such as hunger. In a world where we bring “Humanity to work,” it would be so much easier for brands to earn and keep the trust of consumers and maintain their reputation.