Guest Column: Responsible businesses take in larger rewards

It’s been said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” The Fourth Annual Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics, hosted by the Mountain States Better Business Bureau on May 9, will recognize three companies that have made a difference.

It is more important now than perhaps at any point in history to recognize companies that are choosing to do the right thing. Last month, the Golin/Harris Trust Survey discovered “it is not just Enron” when they found that survey respondents, by a 7 to 1 margin, said that recent economic events have created a crisis of confidence and trust in the way we do business in America. As a result, they said that they were going to hold businesses to a higher standard in their behavior and communication.

From a positive perspective it means that American businesses have a window of opportunity to mount a trust offensive, to step to the forefront and tell their story relative to their beliefs and standards.

“While the situation is serious, it is not gloom and doom beyond repair,” according to the Golin/Harris worldwide director of marketing and brand strategy. “Rather, we see some very clear and compelling opportunities and strategies for businesses to build and strengthen trust in their brands.”

‘Corporate social responsibility’ values

More and more companies are reevaluating their commitment to corporate social responsibility, which is generally described as a company’s decision-making linked to ethical values, compliance with legal requirements and respect for people, communities and the environment. In fact, PriceWaterhouseCoopers completed a survey this month of 1,100 CEO’s that resulted in two thirds of them reporting that corporate social responsibility is important to profitability and can prevent the loss of customers, shareholders and employees.

The Business and Society Review found that companies that make a public commitment to rely on their ethics codes outperformed companies that did not by two to three times. In fact, significant bottom-line results that occurred when focusing on corporate social responsibility include:

” Improved financial performance: Harvard University found that “stakeholder-balanced” companies showed four times the growth rate and eight times the employment growth when compared to companies that are shareholder-only focused.

” Reduced operating costs: Work-life programs that result in reduced absenteeism and increased retention of employees often save companies money through increased productivity and by a reduction in hiring and training costs.

” Enhanced brand image and reputation: Boston College professors found that excellent employee, customer and community relations are more important than strong shareholder returns in earning corporations a place on Fortune magazine’s annual “Most Admired Companies” list.

” Increased sales and customer loyalty: The Cone/Roper Cause Related Trends Report determined that American consumers and employees solidly and consistently support charitable cause-related activities and that companies see benefits to the brand and organization’s reputation, image and bottom line.

” Increased productivity and quality: Company efforts that result in improved working conditions, lesser environmental impact or greater employee involvement in decision-making often lead to increased productivity and reduced error rate.

” Increased ability to attract and retain employees: A study of 2,100 MBA students conducted by Net Impact found that slightly more than half said they would accept a lower salary to work for a socially responsible company.

” Access to capital: The Social Investment Forum reports that, in the United States in 1999, there was more than $2 trillion in assets under management in portfolios that use screens linked to ethics, the environment and corporate social responsibility.

Please join us as we applaud and recognize the companies that have been nominated by the community and evaluated by teams of students at the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming. Let’s celebrate honesty, integrity, and generally “choosing to do the right thing” at the 2002 Better Business Bureau Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics.

The Torch Awards will be held at the Fort Collins Marriott Hotel on May 9 at 5:30 p.m.

Pam King is president and CEO of the Mountain States Better Business Bureau.