What Corporate Social Responsibility Looks Like in AZ

CSR followers burgeoning among companies and consumers
by Helene Tack

What pops into people’s heads when “corporate social responsibility” is mentioned? Most likely it is a large company with happy employees, in a building with sleeping pods in the breakroom, engaged managers who create a fun environment for their team, and a lengthy list of how the business acts in an environmentally friendly way. What might not be top of mind are small to medium-sized businesses like the local coffee shop, dairy farm or tire shop. Taking out the word “corporate” will reveal a significant number of Arizona businesses that are performing in a socially responsible manner — not because it’s required by their stakeholders but because it comes naturally to them.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to how businesses operate in a manner that considers the effect they have on the community, the people their product or service touches, and the environmental impact they have. Companies like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and Etsy are high-performing in the realm of CSR, well-known for having incredible company cultures, above-and-beyond sustainability initiatives, strong voices that advocate for their industries and a high level of transparency about their supply chain.

Demand for businesses that are acting in a responsible manner has been burgeoning, thanks in part to a more educated consumer. It is evident in a myriad of ways, from citizens moving their money to financial institutions that are aligned with their values, to people purchasing footwear that also gives to those in need. On a local level, the success of the Local First movement in Arizona is proof that consumers are not only paying attention to the impact their spending has, but they are acting on it.

Locally owned companies are overwhelmingly acting in a responsible manner. And, while consumer demand plays a part, most often independent companies are creating positive impact because it is part of their personal belief system. Take Fair Trade Café, a Phoenix coffee shop that has been implementing social responsibility for years. Owner Stephanie Vasquez has incorporated sustainability initiatives like recycling and composting into her operations, and, as the café’s name implies, serves ethically sourced food products. Vasquez is a vocal proponent of supporting fair wages and Ban the Box legislation, and puts her advocacy into practice by paying a living wage and creating jobs opportunities for women leaving the prison system.

Other examples of local companies acting in a socially responsible manner include Community Tire, which started a community garden on an empty lot across from its South Phoenix shop; Danzeisen Dairy, whose milk stays fresh in returnable glass bottles; and Upward Projects restaurants, which keeps its employees engaged in an industry known for high turnover by inspiring and empowering them. Arizona is also home to certified B corporations like Goodmans Interior Structures, Carolyn Sechler CPA and Technicians for Sustainability, which have gone through a rigorous assessment that proves they are walking the talk when it comes to CSR.

According to results from the Quick Impact Assessment, a drilled-down version of the full B Lab certification, Arizona businesses are excelling in areas like ownership diversity, impactful banking, high to low pay ratios between owners and staff, donating to nonprofits and sourcing from local suppliers. However, there is room for social responsibility to grow. The Assessment results show that Arizona businesses can improve by screening suppliers for their social impact, seeking out businesses to work with from disadvantaged groups and monitoring the environmental impact of their operations.

Another area for improvement is businesses getting better at telling their story, which helps nurture the demand for socially responsible businesses. Business owners should be measuring the impact their operations have, with an eye toward finding areas for improvement and transparency. Tools like the Quick Impact Assessment are great for opening a business owner’s eyes to the areas where the business can improve, and can be taken for free through the Local First Arizona website.

When owners are present at their business and actively engaged, they see the impact their operations have. An overflowing dumpster shows that a company should look at recycling and composting options. A high employee turnover rate shows that a company should be thinking about ways to better engage its workforce. Chronic problems in the community can spur business owners to advocacy. Knowing the sweat equity that goes into operating a business can inspire business owners to create strong relationships with fellow local businesses. Whether it’s called social responsibility, or simply doing the right thing, it’s apparent that Arizona businesses are charging forward with impactful business models.

Helene Tack is program development director with Local First Arizona, a statewide nonprofit organization working to strengthen communities and local economies through growing, supporting and celebrating locally owned businesses throughout the State of Arizona.

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