The business case for social impact initiatives


Published on: July 2022

Written by: Xenia Korobochkina

Can prioritizing people and the planet improve your organization’s business outcomes?

Most social impact efforts are viewed as purely altruistic, making it hard to justify anything beyond the occasional “socially responsible” expense. However, by adopting a future-forward mindset and leveraging mindful business approaches, you can offset social impact expenses and improve overall profitability.

Here are three ways social and environmental impact can help grow your business.

  1. Small steps lead to big changes.
    When choosing social impact initiatives to support, take your organization’s values into account and leverage its existing capabilities and assets. These factors will help identify fruitful opportunities for volunteering and sponsorship.

    Here’s one example of leveraging existing assets: say your organization hosts a catered event in its cafeteria space. Partnering with a nonprofit catering service, preferably one that’s authorized to repurpose leftovers, creates opportunities for your people to connect with external volunteers. The sum of these interactions may produce your newest clients, candidates, or media promoters.

    Another example: a professional services firm that specializes in capability development runs one of its signature programs for non-profit leaders, free of charge. Both parties grow: the non-profit leaders build capability, while the program facilitators gain experience, all in a low-risk environment. Any resulting relationships between participants and facilitators will multiply social impact throughout their networks.

  2. Creating a great workplace culture.
    Today’s job market is hyper-competitive. One way for organizations to stand out is to be a place where people are proud to work.

    Supporting causes that talent cares about — whether by creating volunteer opportunities, sponsorships, or initiatives — will help you win and retain talent.If there are aspects of running the business that may negatively impact people or the planet, consider proactive ways to offset these costs.

    For example, carbon offsets — e.g., sponsoring rainforest preservation — can help compensate for environmental costs incurred by business travel. Over time, these partnerships can evolve and enable talent to feel more confident about working without compromising their values. Efforts like these are reasons for mission-driven employees to stay and become superfans.

  3. Sustainability simply makes business sense.
    Working towards a “greater good” benefits how your organization is perceived by stakeholders (including talent, clients, and investors), which may result in unforeseen opportunities. This is critical for organizational longevity, which requires sustainability in every sense, whether economic, environmental, or social.

    Economic sustainability is a no-brainer: keeping your organization in the black and not the red, year over year, is necessary to stay in business. However, economic sustainability becomes more challenging without environmental sustainability, as all organizations rely on the planet to provide. It’s the place where we all work, live, and grow.

    It is in every organization’s best interest to focus on environmental sustainability, because long-term access to natural resources is necessary for any organization to succeed, or even exist, in the future. Failing to mitigate the costs incurred on the planet will obstruct day-to-day business operations.

    Social sustainability is another requirement for success: organizations do not exist in a vacuum. The communities where your employees live and work contribute to creating a productive work environment. Investing in this community — whether by volunteering at a local food bank, or creating internship opportunities for local graduates — yields a safe and mutually-beneficial environment for for your people, your organization, and the surrounding area.

Social impact need not remain an altruistic write-off on your income statement. The business case for doing good includes furthering impactful causes, cultivating a culture that retains talent, and fostering sustainable practices for generations ahead. When these efforts align with your organization’s values and capabilities, they become sustainable drivers of people, planet, and profit for your business.

Measurement is key for ensuring action, so many leading businesses account for the triple bottom line by assessing social and environmental impact in addition to profits and loss. This enables them to remain responsible for decisions that positively impact not only the current and future success of their organization, but also the world we all share.

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