Perspectives: CSR—Good For The Community, Good For You

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As I write this column in mid-June, our promotional products family members in the Pacific Northwest are suffering through a heat wave that was described on the local newscast as “once in a 100 lifetimes.” Temperatures there exceeded 117 degrees yesterday, shattering the record high by several degrees. I heard that roads are buckling, powerline coverings are melting and community pools are closed because it’s not safe to be outside. In February, Texas suffered through what we are now calling “Snowmageddon.” Snow fell for several days, accumulating up to more than nine inches in some areas. Temperatures were in the single digits and the “feels like” temperatures were below zero. The Texas power grid failed and many of us lost electricity and running water, in some cases for days. Those less fortunate had frozen pipes burst and their homes flooded. While this might be an easy time to proclaim that global warming is here and that our weather patterns will never be the same, I am not advocating that. I have no idea if these strange weather occurrences really are “once in a hundred lifetimes” events or whether this is going to happen with more regularity. Personally, I don’t think it matters; it doesn’t change my opinion that we need to be more conscious of how we treat Mother Earth and our community.   

My two previous Perspectives columns introduced the concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) programs. I described what they mean and why they are important to your businesses. Research shows that companies with strong CSR programs that embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, that have strong environmental and sustainable processes, and that have the proper governance and measures in place to enforce their commitments, actually outperform other companies and return a higher shareholder value. I also pointed out that increasing shareholder value may not be the only purpose of a business. Businesses are now concerned about CSR’s impact on all its stakeholders, which includes not only shareholders, but also employees, customers, vendors, competitors and the community.  

When I joined PPAI more than 13 years ago, I was told that the promo industry is different; we are like a family, we help each other, we trust each other and we hug a lot (a whole lot). I had worked in many industries before joining PPAI and I thought, “Sure, every industry says that. This industry isn’t any different.”  Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We do help each other, not just in times of crisis but in day-to-day matters as well (I have seen competitors helping competitors and customers helping vendors). We do trust our members to do what they say they will, not just in fulfilling business orders, but in generosity, in kindness, in outreach; and we do, indeed, hug—a lot.  

I believe it’s now time for us to expand our community and our CSR focus outside the promotional products industry. We cannot expect CSR to eliminate the world’s problems at once, that’s just too much to expect, but it can definitely benefit the communities in which we are operating. Strong CSR companies help their communities by implementing diverse hiring practices and by paying a fair wage, helping to bring economic stability to their community. They help by being environmentally friendly, thereby reducing pollution in the air and water, minimizing waste that goes into landfills and making their community a place in which people enjoy living. And they stand for justice, kindness, generosity and respect for all people, making their community a place they are proud to call home.  

I know that many promotional products companies already embrace CSR and are great corporate citizens, and that more and more companies from our industry are joining their ranks. PPAI is committed to helping our industry continue to adopt or grow its CSR programs. We will do that by offering relevant educational programs, advocating about the efforts and results in our industry, and by setting a good example by how we manage your Association. PPAI’s Product Responsibility Action Group and our Board of Directors are currently working on a new, aspirational Code of Conduct that can serve as a blueprint for how your company can become a good corporate citizen and, as a result, not only grow your shareholder value, but benefit the communities you work and play in. That’s a win-win for everyone. 

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Robert I. McLean, Jr. is executive vice president and chief financial officer of PPAI.

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