The Triple Bottom Line – Part Two: Social Responsibility

As part of this blog series on the fourth industrial revolution and digital transformation, we’re exploring the concept of the triple bottom line[1]. This involves considering three success metrics - economic, social and environmental – when evaluating a business’s performance in this new digital era. In my last blog we looked at how the coming together of the digital and physical worlds (or digital fusion) can help us innovate an alternative to the traditional economic bottom line. Today, we’ll consider the social bottom line.

We’re more connected now than ever before. This is especially true of millennials, who are exerting an increasingly powerful influence on society, our values and outlook; and of the middle class, which is getting bigger[2] the world over. Greater awareness breeds a stronger sense of social responsibility, meaning consumers are increasingly concerned not just with what a company sells, but how it operates. Any impression of unfairness, unethical practices or bad treatment of employees[3] can result in nosediving revenues, a dwindling customer base and reputational damage[4] that can last long after any issues have been resolved.

And it’s not just your external-facing reputation that you need to worry about. A study commissioned by Verizon[5] discovered that corporate social responsibility (CSR) can have a big impact on your business, both internally and externally. It found that companies that embrace CSR can:

  • Increase both price premiums and revenue by up to 20 percent
  • Boost employee productivity by up to 13 percent
  • Reduce staff turnover by up to 50 percent
  • Protect as much as 10 percent of their brand value

It is therefore essential that companies address their social obligations. This goes beyond just ticking the box on meeting expectations around ethical accounting, safe working environments and so on. Companies that really make their social bottom line work for them are those that go beyond expectations. Take CVS, for example. The company is a healthcare provider but also sells a wide range of everyday items, including cigarettes. Tobacco sales brought in $2 billion in annual sales for CVS, meaning that if it stopped selling these products, it could expect to see its earnings reduce significantly, and this would also impact its share price. Sticking to its moral principles though, in 2014 CVS announced that it would stop selling tobacco in all 7,600 of its stores.

Contrary to expectation, sales actually rose[6] by 3.1 percent overall, and revenue went up 9.7 percent, with an increase in pharmacy sales offsetting the loss of tobacco income. The stock price

climbed 27 percent, adding $25 billion to CVS’s market cap. Moreover, customers actually stopped buying cigarettes in other stores[7] as well.

Customers clearly responded well to this decision by CVS and showed just how powerful the social bottom line can be. Digital fusion – the bringing together of the physical and technological worlds to drive business innovation – provides the opportunity to take this even further.

Looking In - Fitness Trackers and Wellness Programs

A healthy employee tends to be a happier, more productive employee. With this in mind, many organizations are looking to appeal to health-conscious workers while also boosting business performance by operating wellness programs. Leading fitness tracker provider Fitbit offers an Enterprise Wellness program[8], which it currently operates in more than 1,000 companies. Employers offer each employee a Fitbit device, which helps them develop healthier habits and track their progress against fitness goals. Members of this scheme include Barclays, Target and IBM[9].

These programs can range in complexity from simply providing a health-positive perk, to driving large-scale change and positive impact on the community. For example, a year after challenging employees to reach 10,000 steps per day, Kimberly-Clark[10] found that 50 percent had lost weight and increased their strength and flexibility. The Dayton Regional Transit Authority[11] saved $2.3 million over two years by using Fitbit trackers to encourage bus drivers to be more active and so reduce their cholesterol and glucose levels.

It is possible to achieve positive behavior change through these programs. For example, IBM distributed fitness trackers to 40,000 employees and saw a 96 percent usage rate[12].

While there is a debate[13] about the link between wellness and productivity, it is believed that wellness programs can help boost performance, and reduce the number of days lost to sickness. Cloud services company Appirio gave fitness trackers to its 400 employees[14] and used the anonymized data to negotiate a 6 percent reduction in its health insurance premium, resulting in a $280,000 saving.

Looking Out – Socially Responsible Supply Chains

Direct employees aren’t the only group that your organization should consider when addressing its social responsibilities. With consumer interest growing in where products are sourced and how ethically they are made, delivered and sold, organizations must ensure the fair treatment of workers at every stage of the supply chain. Ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s demonstrated the impact this can have on the bottom line in 2010, when it based an advertising campaign on promoting its commitment to using Fairtrade Certified ingredients. The company saw a 27 percent increase[15] in sales of the ice cream featured in the ads, and a 6 percent increase in total year-on-year sales.

Digitally enabled initiatives such as crowdsourcing can also be used to help enhance CSR in the supply chain. LaborVoices[16] has created a service that allows workers to anonymously submit data via their mobile phones about their working conditions and salaries so that organizations can get real-time data through a digital platform about operations across the whole supply chain. All the data submitted is vetted and checked for accuracy before being summarized and made available to businesses and the public. At the last count, over 17,000 workers were signed up to the system.

What types of CSR activity does your organization offer? How might digital fusion help you take it to the next level? Your social bottom line will be an essential part of your success in the digitally transformed business landscape. Next time we’ll consider the role your environmental bottom line will play.

 

© Intel Corporation. Intel and the Intel logo are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries. *Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.


[1] Triple bottom line, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/node/14301663

[2] The rise of the global middle class, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22956470

[3] Apple Store Employees Tell Tim Cook ‘We’re Treated Like Criminals’, CNN, http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/11/technology/apple-store-lawsuit-tim-cook/

[4] Starbucks uphill battle to resuscitate its brand, YouGov, https://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/06/26/starbucks-uphill-battle-resuscitate-its-brand/

[5] New Study, Commissioned by Verizon, Addresses a Persistent Knowledge Gap by Analyzing the Financial Impacts of Corporate Responsibility Programs, Verizon, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-study-commissioned-by-verizon-addresses-a-persistent-knowledge-gap-by-analyzing-the-financial-impacts-of-corporate-responsibility-programs-300111270.html

[6] CVS Revenues Increase after Cigarette Ban, Time, http://time.com/3557120/cvs-revenues-increase-after-cigarette-ban/

[7] After CVS stopped cigarette sales smokers stopped buying elsewhere too, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2017/02/20/after-cvs-stopped-cigarette-sales-smokers-stopped-buying-elsewhere-too/#5f6064bbc8f5

[8] https://www.fitbit.com/uk/group-health

[9] How Fitbit became the next big thing in corporate health, Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/3058462/how-fitbit-became-the-next-big-thing-in-corporate-wellness

[10] Kimberly-Clark chooses to live well, Fitbit, http://content.fitbit.com/rs/493-CEF-482/images/KimberlyClark_CaseStudy.pdf

[11] RTA takes a stand against sitting, Fitbit, http://content.fitbit.com/rs/493-CEF-482/images/RTACaseStudy.pdf

[12] How Fitbit became the next big thing in corporate health, Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/3058462/how-fitbit-became-the-next-big-thing-in-corporate-wellness

[13] In defense of corporate wellness programs, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2014/02/in-defense-of-corporate-wellness-programs

[14] How Fitbit became the next big thing in corporate health, Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/3058462/how-fitbit-became-the-next-big-thing-in-corporate-wellness

[15] Ben & Jerry’s show the proof of TV’s effectiveness is in the pudding, Thinkbox TV, https://www.thinkbox.tv/Case-studies/Ben-and-Jerrys

[16] https://www.laborvoices.com/

Published on Categories Business LeadershipTags , ,
Andrew Moore

About Andrew Moore

Andrew is the General Manager of the Digital Transformation Office in Intel’s Industry Sales Group. The role involves developing a set of progressive but actionable approaches to helping key customers define and start executing meaningful transformation strategies. The goal in doing this is, ultimately, to forge strategic and symbiotic relationships with the some of the world's leading organizations and in doing so raising Intel's profile and role as a true thought leader in the world of digitization.