Protecting the world one thread at a time

Our interactions with others shape our reputations as individuals. Similarly, companies are judged by their behaviors and their interactions.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is one driver of reputation. We respond more favorably to companies that add value to society – companies that are employers, neighbors, or vendors of choice.

The current cold spell brings to mind a company that was founded on the premise of “giving back” to society and the environment. It encourages its customers to do the same.

The mission of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

In grade school we learn the meaning of the five  “W’s.” In its “Common Threads Initiative,” Patagonia introduces us to the five “R’s” – reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, and reimagine.

The company suggests that everything we make costs the planet more than it gives back. As consumers, we should only buy what we need – not an easy sell to a society that equates possessions with happiness!

Patagonia delivers a powerful message, but, more importantly, it also “walks the talk.” Last year, the company repaired 12,000 garments. Since 2005, it has recycled 45 tons of worn out clothing and turned 34 tons into new garments.

Patagonia donates one percent of its sales to grassroots environmental organizations to help preserve and restore the natural environment. It encourages (and pays for) employees to spend time working with these organizations.

But, Patagonia is not concerned only about the environment. It works hard to promote fair labor practices and ensure safe working conditions throughout its supply chain.

Perhaps the biggest affirmation of the company’s culture and values came last month. Patagonia became one of California’s first “benefit corporations.” Under this legal framework, shareholders can no longer demand that the company prioritize profits over social and environmental responsibility. Critics may mourn a loss of financial accountability, but the aging founder of the company, Yvon Chouinard, is assured that Patagonia can continue its mission in perpetuity – a mission to stop the destruction of our environment.

Will other companies follow Patagonia’s lead?

BMW Caught in a Storm

BMW Badge by Byrion on Flickr

 

Think of BMW and the words quality and performance come to mind. For years, the company has delivered on its promise to build the “ultimate driving machine.” Combining this achievement with a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainability has allowed BMW to bank significant reputational capital.

Last week, the company was forced to dip into its savings when an advertising campaign for its Mini Cooper brand fell foul of the weather.

Sassenbach Advertising, based in Munich, paid $394 to place the name “Cooper” on a list for naming high-pressure weather systems in Germany. The agency, which runs social media campaigns for Mini Cooper, says it was trying to portray a “ wind- and weather-proof idea” for the new two-seater convertible. Fans were invited to track the progress of the “beautiful weather” system online.

Unfortunately, the extreme cold weather front, which became known as “Cooper,” reaped havoc across Europe.  Temperatures dropped to minus 33 degrees Celsius and numerous deaths were reported in several countries. Thousands were treated in hospital for hypothermia and frostbite.

With the Mini Cooper brand linked to worsening weather reports, BMW was caught in a public relations nightmare. The company issued a statement expressing regret and stating, “you cannot tell in advance what a weather system will do.”

Did BMW hear what it said? Given that we cannot control Mother Nature, why would BMW agree to align one of its brands with something as unpredictable as the weather? Was the risk of tarnishing brand reputation worth the potential benefit?

Hopefully, BMW and the ad agency – who quickly distanced itself from the incident – have learned a lesson. If not, it appears this story may not be over yet. The ad agency also purchased the name “Minnie” to be assigned to a warm weather front!

What do you think? Should BMW and its Mini Cooper brand take a chance on another weather system?

Welcome to CR Thoughts

I have watched and I have waited until, finally, I can wait no longer. A long-term assignment for a social media class has provided the shove I needed to launch myself into this new world – the blogosphere.

Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to share my thoughts on matters of corporate social responsibility and corporate reputation – to give praise when praise is due and to question when I think actions are questionable.