Embracing technology to drive CSR in the new normal

As the world moves into whatever the new normal holds, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will become more important. Feeling connected to a company has taken on a whole new perspective, due to the recent and unprecedented crisis that has impacted every geography and market. One where technology is playing an enormous role.

Expectations for responsible business are here to stay

During these unpredictable times, honesty, trust and community outreach have proven to be of the utmost value and are helping to maintain brands and their reputations. We are all in this global emergency together, and anywhere enterprises are holding out a hand to help will be remembered well into the future.

Amazon, for example, pledged a $5 million relief fund for small businesses in the vicinity of its headquarters. Orange allocated an additional €3 million to the Orange Foundation to support health and preventative initiatives in countries where it operates. But moving forward, more will need to be done to drive corporate citizenship and its values in business strategies in the emerging low-touch, high-tech economy.

Larry Fink, CEO of global investment management firm Blackrock, recently summed this up saying: “The pandemic we’re experiencing now highlights the fragility of the globalized world and the value of sustainable portfolios. When we emerge from this crisis and the investors rebalance portfolios, we have an opportunity to accelerate to a more sustainable world.”

Enterprises must be prepared for inevitable changes in our society, health and economy: this means stepping up a gear to become more resilient and flexible in their CSR strategies. According to the Harris Poll, nine in ten respondents said there is now an opportunity for large corporations to “reset” and focus on doing right by employees, customers, communities and the environment. Technology has the scope to be hugely powerful in this “reset.”

Last year, almost €1.8 billion were invested in social responsibility and sustainability actions by Italian firms alone, according to a report by L’Osservatorio Socialis study center. This investment is forecast to drop around 16% this year, but findings show that the crisis has strengthened commitment to corporate citizenship. Enterprises are already looking to new sustainability models where “technology and innovation marry social responsibility,” according to Roberto Orsi, Director of L’Osservatorio Socialis. This is a trend I suspect we will see across the globe.

Where technology can power up CSR

IDC believes that enterprises committed to protecting “sustainability initiatives, encourage workplace diversity and inclusion, and making a significant difference to communities at risk” will be remembered by clients, employees and ecosystem partners long into the future.

Technology can help reduce environmental impact and enhance ethical production and near shoring, among others. Flexible or homeworking, for example, promotes environmentally friendly habits. Fewer people commuting reduces emissions, and working from home means less disposable items such as plates, cutlery and coffee cups.

In Italy, the vision of Venice’s once polluted canals has put into perspective how fast a reduction in motorized traffic can improve water quality, for example. Many residents would like it to stay this way. There is already talk of establishing an international climate change center in the city. IoT and analytics will prove valuable in addressing these and other environmental issues that are now top of the agenda for cities all over the world.

Digital ticketing can help to reduce gridlock, congestion and pollution – as well as reducing physical contact points. Real-time data provides insight into behavior trends, which can help transport companies to better allocate resources to encourage people to use public transport by improving passenger flow.

Blockchain, a decentralized database that acts as a secure distributed data ledger, can support and promote transparency and visibility of ethical practices in the supply chain. Its inbuilt ability to trace origins and provenance gives consumers confidence in the fact that products have been ethically sourced or produced. It also provides businesses with a strong market differentiator.

Robust CSR strategies can benefit the bottom line

According to the Boston Consulting Group, there is now growing evidence of a link between environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and their contribution to overall success. This looks set to be even more relevant post-pandemic. Many of us are reconsidering the way we consume and look more closely at how enterprises conduct their business.

To both benefit business and give back, however, enterprises will need a CSR strategy with clear objectives and strong values. Technology can provide innovative ways to support CSR initiatives, such as Google’s drive to analyze weather patterns to increase the output of renewable energy. It can also help enterprises ensure CSR programs are on target, manage workflows and analyze data to help enterprises identify the best not-for-profits to collaborate with.

The world has changed and so has CSR. In recent months, we have seen enterprises being steered not only by economic outcome, but also by social responsibilities. Enterprises will now be under much greater scrutiny, and technology will be key in reshaping CSR for its role in the brave new world we will all be living in.

Francesca Puggioni
Francesca Puggioni

Francesca Puggioni is the Managing Director of Orange Business Services for Southern Europe. With an extensive international business background, she is a champion of cultural diversity in the workplace to inspire creativity and drive innovation and favors a dynamic and innovative management model. She is a great supporter of socially responsible initiatives, especially where technology can have a positive impact on society as a tool for social, economic and environmental development.