Social responsibility continues to grow in importance for consumers. In a 2013 survey by Nielsen, 50 percent of customers said they would be willing to reward companies that give back to society by paying more for their goods and services.1 As consumers become increasingly interested in the social impact of the companies behind the products and services they buy, companies are feeling the pressure to become more socially responsible. Luckily, there are varied approaches companies can take when they make an effort to benefit society at large. Take note from these socially responsible companies positively impacting their communities and growing their brand reputation.

These Boots Were Made for Giving

Apparel giant Timberland knows how to walk the talk. Ten years ago, the boot and shoe retailer made a decision that changed lives. The company was under scrutiny for accusations of using child labor to manufacture their products. Appalled by the allegations against them, Timberland decided to incorporate extensive quarterly sustainability reports and factory audits to ensure responsible sourcing and factory conditions. Today, the company takes social responsibility to new heights by providing a better quality of life for children whose parents manufacture its products. From child care to clean water projects, companies looking to mitigate their impact on working families and their children can learn some lessons from Timberland.2

  • Key takeaway: Timberland wasn't the only company scrutinized for retail manufacturing malpractices, but they were among the first to take a stand. Using transparency to earn the trust of its consumers, the company was able to save its business and rise above the competition. Your company can also take an interest in the lives of employees, their children and children in the community. Encourage employees to donate time to local schools and youth organizations. You could even donate time at a local career school or community college - this is a great way to network and recruit talent while doing good for your community.

Fresh Baked for All

Panera Cares community cafes operate under the philosophy: Take what you need, leave your fair share. The community cafes are operated by Panera Bread, the chain of bakery-café fast casual restaurants, in an effort to extend its offering to those less fortunate. One of the goals of this charitable program is to ensure that everyone who needs a meal gets one. People are encouraged to take what they need and donate their fair share. There are no prices or cash registers, only suggested donation levels and donation bins.3

  • Key takeaway: Big companies can still have a local appeal. Getting customers involved in giving back creates a sense of community. In Panera's case, they are able to inspire change locally, while making a difference globally. Consider going down to the local food bank as a store and packing up food boxes for the needy or running a canned food drive..

Coffee and Community

From community outreach and employee education to fair-trade sourcing and eco-friendly practices, Starbucks' philanthropic efforts span numerous initiatives. The company made headlines for its generous employee education benefits which include paid college tuition for all employees. In addition to giving back to their employees, Starbucks also contributes more than 520,000 hours of volunteer service around the world.4 You don't have to go across the globe to volunteer. Getting out in the community increases awareness and loyalty.

  • Key takeaway: Engaged associates make the best evangelists for your company. Companies that work together to do the right thing, naturally draw loyal consumers. Combine employee benefits with volunteer efforts within your local community and you'll not only inspire employees, you'll create an engaged following. You could even reduce turnover in your store and help employees earn a high school diploma by offering employees a high school completion program.

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Resources: Photo credit. (1) Nielsen (2) The Guardian (3) Panera Cares (4) Starbucks