One of the biggest takeaways from my sustainability graduate program was taught to me by our advisors, Michael Wollman and Megan Topham, at the University of Texas at Arlington. I learned that we must do business in a way that does not compromise the ability of the next generation to do the same. For me, it was the most concise explanation on how people and companies should operate, and I have used that understanding as a North Star for all the work I have had the opportunity to be a part of or lead.
It is an indisputable fact that the resources we have used to power our economy are not infinite. The coal, oil and natural gases that we use as fuel for essential tasks like transportation, heating and cooling comes from a finite amount of organic matter that was formed by being exposed to heat and pressure deep within the earth for millions of years. The fossil fuel reserves that our economy and way of life have depended upon will deplete soon than later. It will cause significant disruption to the livelihood of the upcoming generation if we do not do the following: limit our overconsumption of resources, embrace non-renewable energy and champion sustainable business models. The business model mentioned above should be the triple bottom line approach that focuses on people, profit and planet to measure a company's performance.
Consumers, with good reason, are increasingly concerned with how companies operate on a national and global level. More consumers want to know that companies are doing business with integrity. They care that companies are aware of their responsibilities to society from not only an economic standpoint, but a social and environmental one as well. More plainly, consumers want to know that organizations are corporate citizens.
I appreciated the way that Investopedia wrote about it. They said, "the most successful businesses establish a strong foundation or corporate citizenship, showing a commitment to ethical behaviors by creating a balance between the needs of shareholders and the needs of the community and environment in the surrounding area. These practices help bring in consumers and establish brand and company loyalty."
Delaying or denying the need to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will cause companies and institutions to lose their social licenses to operate (SLO).
So, where do you begin on your Corporate Social Responsibility as a business?
This first part may sound obvious, but it is critical. Choose to say that you are committed to investing in developing more sustainable practices. The reason this part is vital is that this journey is going to take mental, physical and financial resources to maximize your opportunity of being successful. Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility should be integrated into every part of your business. Decision makers within the company need to be on board and understand that the return on investment (ROI) isn't always immediate and their desires to be a good corporate citizen can not be rooted in instant gratification or quarterly earnings reports.
Once you have the buy-in, it is essential to get an understanding of how you are currently performing. Defining what you are doing well and where your opportunities for improvement are as a company will provide you with a reference point to which future work will be compared. Whether it is as simple as a self-assessment or as comprehensive as an internal audit, the knowledge gained from this task will help you align past and current work being done to the aspiration goals you have in mind.
If you are looking for a guide, The United Nations (UN) created 17 Sustainable Development Goals that they refer to as "the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all." Each of the goals provides facts and figures, as well as an explanation of what that specific goal targets. Taking the time to review these goals and find out which ones are in alignment with the mission of your company/organization/institution is a proven best practice used by many successful organizations that believe it is their responsibility to be good corporate citizens.
As I previously wrote, decision makers in an organization need to invest in this project. When making the case to implement a CSR strategy, you have to show that it makes social and environmental and economic sense. Once the rationale is validated, putting together an interdisciplinary approach for this will require building a committee comprised of leaders at each level of the organizational hierarchy. These internal stakeholders will be able to speak to the impact of the project from their vantage point. Together the team will be well-positioned to develop and enact a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility initiative that is good but "does good" as well.
Why should Black Banks have a Corporate Social Responsibility strategy?
Black Banks can be a model for how balance is created between community, environmental and shareholder needs. A people, planet and profit approach is something that has not been widely fleshed out by these institutions, and implementation would show consumers that Black banks are forward-thinking, transparent and have courageous leadership. It is crystal clear that Black banks have not benefited from the same level of support from the government and big business that the "Big Banks" have. They have significantly fewer resources to pull from to support the communities they serve and beyond, but that does not mean that they should not do anything. Taking on this mission to be a good corporate citizen is about positioning.
The CSR strategy should be well-defined and accessible by consumers, employees, stakeholders and investors. Financial literacy workshops are necessary components, but they are not enough. At a minimum, they should be revamped to reflect the fact that people are not struggling with issues of being able to balance checkbooks as they once were. People, by and large, are living paycheck to paycheck, living in the overdraft and trying not to fall prey to predatory lenders, and financial literacy programs of the past have not spoken to that in a meaningful way. They have traditionally talked at their target audience but are not having a conversation with them about how banks can develop innovative products and services that help them survive and thrive in this new, digitally enhanced economy.
Through benchmarking, these institutions can understand what type of impact they have had on entrepreneurs and small businesses with their products and services. Identifying the best practices that they can expand upon and using their opportunities for improvement as the catalyst for innovation will benefit both external and internal customers. I believe that the work being done by financial institutions is in alignment with many of the 17 UN Sustainability goals. I recommend using a minimum of three of them to shape your CSR Vision.
Execution of the Corporate Social Responsibility plan should be led by a committed team of internal, external and, if possible, independent subject matter experts from the community. These individuals will uplift your work and hold the company accountable for ushering in a new level of transparency that is refreshing to future customers and will bolster your social license to operate. These institutions will be able to attract more customers who chose to divest for the big banks and for those with the desire to bank with a purpose.