As consumers become more ethically conscious of the companies they choose to patronise, companies need to maintain a cleaner image and to demonstrate their commitment to ethical business practices. Furthermore, companies currently try to incorporate good citizenship into their business culture through various contributions to society. However, it is natural that consumers may be sceptical of these companies’ motives, since companies in the private sector typically aim to maximise profits and keep investors happy.
Being at the forefront of modern business practices, Google has set their own trend in social responsibility with the introduction of Google Green; a programme that aims towards making the most efficient use of resources while supporting renewable energy. Not only does this help to portray the company in a better light, by building their reputation as a responsible company that takes responsibility for the environment and resources, but it also keeps investors happy through cost saving and efficiency, allowing them to spend that saved money in other areas. One of the better parts of this example is that most companies can accomplish similar results from such small changes, like ensuring lights are switched off in unused rooms, or by recycling and using energy-saving light bulbs. There is no reason not to go green when it saves costs and improves a company’s image.
As for the less environmentally-friendly companies such as those in the oil or tobacco industries, many claim these companies cannot be socially responsible due to the damage they do to health and the environment. Despite these criticisms, tobacco companies still take an active interest in corporate social responsibility by investing in youth programs that discourage younger people from smoking. While some activists claim closing down such companies is the only socially responsible thing they can do, the reality is that there is huge demand for these products and shutting them down would only upset certain consumer segments. In such cases, taking on social responsibility is the least these companies can do to show that they are investing their profits responsibly to at least help to minimise their negative impact on society. Having said that, there is much controversy on this issue and the actual facts remain unclear.
The important thing is that social responsibility is not only a cheap way to maximise profits or win over consumers. Businesses are a collective made up of individuals who are responsible for their own decisions, so they must hold themselves to the same ethical and social standard an individual might expect. Ben and Jerry’s is a good example, as they take on the social challenges of using ethically-sourced ingredients, such as humane free-range eggs, recycling materials used in packaging, and donating their profits to charities like Childline and Trees for the City. These are actions that any socially responsible individual can take, and it emphasises greater responsibility as a whole for Ben and Jerry’s despite their drive for profit.
At the end of the day, the motivations behind social responsibility can be less transparent for some companies compared to others. There is a noticeable growing demand from consumers for greater transparency from businesses, meaning that there is a greater expectancy for businesses to conduct themselves ethically and responsibly within society. Consumers having a voice and holding businesses responsible for their actions are significant steps towards ensuring that businesses conduct themselves in an ethically and socially responsible manner, whereby they are expected to make valuable contributions to society.