Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility

Learning Outcomes

  • Give examples of corporate social responsibility

Not all companies approach CSR in the same way. Their approach depends upon their resources, available assets, and corporate culture. In addition, some companies perceive more benefit from one type of CSR than another. The personal beliefs and priorities of senior management/ownership can also influence the company’s approach to social responsibility. Below are some different approaches to CSR. 

Corporate Philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy refers to a corporation’s gifts to charitable organizations. There is an implication that the corporation’s donations have no strings attached, which is probably quite rare. At a minimum, most corporations expect that their donations will be publicly attributed to the corporation, thus generating positive public relations. When corporations make large cash gifts to universities or museums, they are usually rewarded with a plaque or with a building or library named after the donor. Such attributions burnish the corporation’s public image, and in such cases we are not dealing with true corporate philanthropy, strictly speaking, but something more in the nature of marketing or public relations.

Cause-Related Marketing

Cause-related marketing (CRM) refers to a corporation’s associating the sales of its products to a program of donations or support for a charitable or civic organization. An example is provided by the famous Red campaign, in which corporations such as Nike and Gap pledged to contribute profits from the sale of certain red-colored products to a program for African development and alleviation of AIDS-related social problems. The basic idea of cause-related marketing is that the corporation markets its brand at the same time that it promotes awareness of the given social problem or civic organization that addresses the social problem. Another well-known example is the pink ribbon symbol that promotes breast-cancer awareness and is used prominently in the marketing of special lines of products by many corporations, such as Estée Lauder, Avon, New Balance, and Self Magazine. In addition to marketing products with the pink-ribbon symbol, Estée Lauder has made support for breast cancer awareness one of the defining features of its corporate philanthropy. Thus, Estée Lauder also frequently refers to such charitable contributions, currently on the order of $150 million, in its corporate communications and public relations documents.


Sustainability has become such an important concept that it is frequently used interchangeably with CSR. Indeed, for some companies, it seems that CSR is sustainability. This is perhaps not surprising, given the growing media attention on issues related to sustainability.

Sustainability is a concept derived from environmentalism; it originally referred to the ability of a society or company to continue to operate without compromising the planet’s environmental condition in the future. In other words, a sustainable corporation is one that can sustain its current activities without adding to the world’s environmental problems. Sustainability is therefore a very challenging goal, and many environmentalists maintain that no corporation today operates sustainably, since all use energy (leading to the gradual depletion of fossil fuels while emitting greenhouse gases) and all produce waste products like garbage and industrial chemicals. Whether or not true sustainability will be attainable anytime in the near future, the development and promotion of sustainability strategies has become virtually an obsession of most large corporations today, as their websites will attest in their inevitable reference to the corporation’s sincere commitment to sustainability and responsible environmental practices. No corporation or corporate executive today will be heard to say that they do not really care about the environment. However, if we observe their actions rather than their words, we may have cause for doubt.

Social Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise

Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise refer to the use of business organizations and techniques to attain laudable social goals. As we’ll discuss further in the next reading, Blake Mycoskie decided to create TOMS Shoes largely as a reaction to his travels in Argentina, which had exposed him to terrible poverty that left many school-age children without shoes. An important part of the corporate mission of TOMS Shoes lies in its pledge to give away a free pair of shoes for every pair purchased by a customer. TOMS Shoes’ model has been imitated by many others, including the popular online eyewear brand, Warby Parker.

The difference between social entrepreneurship and CSR is that, with social entrepreneurship, the positive social impact is built into the mission of the company from its founding. Other examples of social entrepreneurship include The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Newman’s Own. The Body Shop was founded by noted activist Anita Roddick, who insisted that all products be derived from ingredients that were natural, organic, and responsibly sourced. Her employment policies famously allowed every employee to take off one day a month from work to engage in social or community projects. Similarly, Ben & Jerry’s was founded to promote the use of organic, locally-produced food. The company’s founders insisted on a policy that executives earn no more than seven times the salary of factory line-workers (although this policy was eventually relaxed when it became difficult to recruit a competent CEO at those wages). Ben & Jerry’s engaged in a number of high-profile political activities in which they encouraged their employees to participate, such as protesting the building of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. Newman’s Own was founded by film actor Paul Newman and his friend A. E. Hotchner with the goal of selling wholesome products and giving away 100 percent of the profits to charitable ventures. To date, Newman’s Own has given away more than two hundred million dollars.

Social Marketing

Social marketing refers to the use of business marketing techniques in the pursuit of social goals. Often, governments and nonprofit organizations make use of social marketing to make their points more forcefully and effectively to a wide audience. Classic examples are the extremely powerful TV commercials warning of the dangers of unsafe driving or of failing to use seat belts. Cinematic techniques are employed to portray dramatic, arresting images of crumpled cars and bodies, and children and mothers crying. The source of social marketing advertisements is usually a local government or nonprofit organization.

Social marketing is usually used to try to convince citizens to drive more safely, eat better, report child and domestic abuse, and avoid various forms of criminality and drug use. As with ordinary advertising, social marketing can seem overdone or maudlin, and some social marketing ads have been mocked or considered silly. For example, former First Lady Nancy Reagan participated in a social marketing campaign that urged young people to “Just Say No” to drugs, an approach that was ridiculed as simplistic by many. Noted radical activist Abbie Hoffman said that telling drug users to “just say no” to drugs was like telling manic-depressives to “just cheer up.” Despite that, drug use in America declined over the time period that the campaign was in progress, though there is no evidence that any part of this decline was due to the campaign.

Practice Question