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Sustainability & Social Responsibility

Generating Support for Green Initiatives


Lisa Cooling

March/April 2008, eSide Supply Management Vol. 1, No. 2

Going Green: How to Generate Support for Social Responsibility
Despite the rising popularity — and necessity — of social responsibility, this integral concept can be difficult for existing organizations to implement. A recent report issued by ISM offers practical steps to get your organization moving in the right direction.

In the quest to implement social responsibility practices, supply management professionals need all the help they can get. Enter a November 2007 report by the Institute for Supply Management™: A Call to Action: Developing a Social Responsibility Business Case.

Detailed information about ISM's Principles of Social Responsibility is provided, as are incentives to go green, plus the main steps involved. A Call to Action walks readers through the creation of a compelling business case — an essential part of gaining executive support and organizational consensus.

The 7 Principles of Social Responsibility

ISM has identified seven areas that fall under the umbrella of social responsibility:

  1. Community initiatives — Programs and/or activities developed to provide cash, equipment, people or other resources to nonprofit, educational or other community groups.

  2. Diversity in supply management — The inclusion of different categories of suppliers in the sourcing process and active supply base, identifying opportunities and challenges that might come from differences and similarities, and diverse employment practices internally and within the supply chain.

  3. Environmental impact or change — Can occur within the surroundings in which a company operates, including impact on the land, water, air, flora, humans and other interrelations. The effects can be adverse or actively beneficial, depending on an organizations activities, products and policies.

  4. Ethics — Can give rise to standards of supply management conduct that address concepts of right and wrong, responsibility and moral behavior. New issues arise every day given the scale of international business and the related cultural ethical values.

  5. Financial responsibility — Refers to methods that individuals, businesses and organizations raise, allocate and use monetary resources over time, keeping an eye on potential risks involved in their projects.

  6. Human rights — Can cover a variety of factors including, but not limited to, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, age and sexual orientation, and how an organization can work to actively retain individual dignity and inalienable character.

  7. Safety — An organization or individual operates in a way that protects the organization or helps mitigate the risk of injury, danger, failure, accident, harm or loss.
Go Green Graphic

A social responsibility program tackling any one of these principles not only strengthens an organization's culture, but helps reduce risk, potentially lowers the cost of operations, helps recruit and retain employees, and improves internal and external relationships. Knowing which of these benefits will appeal most to your organization will help as you begin the first steps in building the business case.

Reasons for Change

The ISM report spotlights many reasons why an organization might choose to implement such programs and policies, including:

  • Enhancing market share, business volume and revenue
  • Becoming a favored supplier
  • Positively influencing the community
  • Improving morale and reputation
  • Counteracting negative press
  • Reducing legal costs and managing risk

Many organizations are actively changing the way they do business to satisfy green or socially responsible initiatives. If yours lags behind, it risks lost business and negative publicity. Legal concerns are another strong motivator, as is compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley or other regulatory requirements. Once the reasons have been identified, expected outcomes and future goals can be formulated.

The more quantifiable an expected benefit, the easier it will be to convince the organization to move forward. According to A Call to Action, a handful of questions should be answered:

  • How is "principle" defined in the workplace?
  • Are there tangible, identifiable benefits?
  • What are the hard costs of implementing a program?
  • What resources does it demand?
  • What are the barriers?
  • How should "good" practice be measured?
  • How will outcomes be measured?
  • Who will collect data and be responsible for reporting?
  • What are the considerations should an accident or error occur (especially in the case of safety programs)?
Making It a Reality

Implementing socially responsible initiatives demands that several key best-practice policy elements be in place. Organizational policy is updated as new challenges arise; overall, however, it is established, documented and maintained as a way of making sure all behavior — both employees' and organization's as a whole — is aligned with company values and all applicable laws. As such, management must support tweaking the existing policies and ensure that this new initiative fits the organization (and vice versa) when introducing a social responsibility program.

Planning the implementation requires clear definitions of all terms, conditions, operational values and components. The ISM report suggests that when developing the components of the project, issues involving training and its related mechanisms — whistle-blowing and sanctions, for example — are also considered.

No matter which principles are focused on, training is crucial. As applicable, comprehensive training programs should be developed to educate and develop employees, suppliers and other members of the supply chain.

Of course, none of this can happen without effective communication both internally and externally. Someone in the organization must be responsible for monitoring the initiative and be sensitive to how it is positioned. This person (or team) should consider creating reports that reflect performance to the shareholders, the public, supply chain members and employees.

Building the business case for social responsibility implementation will take time, resources, careful planning and a lot of discussion. The outcome, however, has the potential to outweigh the work involved.

The full report is available on the ISM Web site.

Lisa Cooling

Lisa Cooling is a senior writer for Inside Supply Management®. To reach the author or sources mentioned in this article, please send an e-mail to

For more articles and resources on social responsibility, visit the ISM articles database.

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