CSR x Design
Sustainable CSR programs are important. Donations and volunteering may be responsible, but are quite often unsustainable in the long term especially when underlying issues and causes are not resolved.
I will be sharing some of my work experience and tips on Designs and Sustainable CSR. I would also love to engage others in the industry to share their stories so that we can consolidate best practices and positive to share and learn together.
Effective CSR – Buy Local, Support Local
Running an effective CSR campaign does not need to be expensive or complex. You do not need to be rich or a big corporation before you can start your CSR journey.
It is important to be aware of the local community and be updated with the news and current affairs. I have worked in various clients on CSR communication and projects and found that a lot of simple ones are the most impactful and effective.
With the backdrop of the Australian Bushfires, we are reminded again that our actions do have consequences. Consumers want to know that the businesses they support are doing to support the environment, and every little thing a business does, good or bad does accumulate and it does affect the decision of the consumer.
Restaurants and others in the food industry have a big role to play. Ethical sourcing can have a big impact on the environment. Consumers are increasingly worried about food and how it affects the environment as horror stories of bad practices are being exposed. Many consumers are looking for products that are organic, pesticides free and now — local.
Buy Local Support Local is a movement where many consumers support local farmers and would not mind paying a little extra to get fresher products that they know exactly where it is from. Being local, it also allow the customer to actually visit some of these farms to learn more about the source of their food.
As a restaurant, one simple CSR strategy is to build a local supply chain. Getting local products would also mean that there is more security as anything that affects the supply chain would be made known quickly to trace and find a business continuity plan. Supporting local farmers is a sure way to help local businesses and the collaboration can strengthen both brands. It creates employment for locals and support the local economy. With less logistics involved, it lowers the carbon footprint and there can be more transparency on the source.
The Singapore is quite serious about food security, and the amount of local farms are growing. Do you know that there is a goat farm in Singapore with more than 30 years of history?
Hay Dairies is the only local goat farm in Singapore. It produces more than 1,000 litres of milk a day and this milk is sold at Cold Storage and Prime Supermarkets.
If any restaurant want a new idea for a new product, I would recommend looking at trying out some recipes with fresh local goat milk. Goat milk is a better choice compared to cow milk for digestion. Goat milk have less lactose than cow milk and might make it easier for you to stomach. Goat milk does tastes different and it is worth giving goat milk a try for unique recipes.
Is Singapore Ready for Circular Economy?
With the increasing negative perception of plastic, many consumers are influencing brands to move away from plastic due to the technical issues of insufficient infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle plastic waste. There are a lot of alternatives being developed but many are short-lived, as they may deplete more natural resources or are simply too expensive for the market to afford.
Paper packaging is a contributing factor to deforestation, increase paper consumption with 55% attributed to packaging can be blamed for the loss of forests and biodiversity.
Glass packaging production also requires quartz sand and high consumption of this material can lead to depletion of its reserve and damage to the environment. Recycling glass requires a large amount of heat to melt the glass and has a high carbon footprint.
PET packaging — the most popular bottle packaging for soda and mineral water — is also widely used in containing oils, cleaners and other household items. It is cheap, light, easily molded, non-breakable and is rather inert to most products. In many countries, PET packaging is recycled but insufficient understanding of their responsibilities by consumers in many countries for the disposal of used packaging and poor collection infrastructure results in a lot of these waste contaminated and unable to be recycled.
In Singapore, we do have recycling but it seems to be far from ideal. Singapore has a National Recycling Programme having big blue recycling bins in many public housing estates. However, much of the recyclables are contaminated, resulting in the contaminated recyclables ending up in the incinerator.
Singapore does have various Green Stores that support the Green Movement. The Green Collective have a lot of Eco-friendly alternatives such as reusable wax wraps, reusable silicon bags for Sous Vide and other organic and sustainable products to help you reduce your carbon footprint. Unpackt and Zero Ways are stores which sells products in bulk, allow you to buy what you need putting them in your own containers.
TerraCycle — a private recycling company that focuses on capturing and repurposing hard-to-recycle items — has a new initiative, Loop. Loop is a circular economy online store that bridge the gap between consumers, corporations and waste. They work with brands to provide reusable packaging for common consumer products and has already launched in many cities with offerings of 300 different items.
With the growing focus on sustainability, many recycling companies have seen more investments and growth. The governments are also playing a bigger role to push to reduce waste. Singapore’s only landfill will run out of space by 2035. There is limited space for building new incinerator plants or landfills in Singapore. There are a lot of talks to reduce plastic waste but till date, Singapore has not successfully banned any single use plastics.
With Loop and the growing movement of circular economy, along with other refilling station projects and growing popularity of bulk groceries like Unpackt, Singapore seemed to be a perfect place to launch a circular economy initiative as the Island is relatively small and the top down government can pass legislation easily to make it happen. With our scarce land use, the threat brought by climate change and our landfill running out of space, will we see the big brands take on a bigger role of starting a circular economy initiative to reuse their containers, or will the government mandate companies to reuse packaging as more countries are doing so?
Corporate Communications during the COVID-19 Outbreak
Panic, shutdown, confusion and misinformation, how brands can communicate effectively and ethically in this time of crisis.
COVID-19 does not seem to be anywhere close to being contained. In China, we have seen big brands close stores, airlines cancel flights and businesses badly affected.
In Singapore, tourist arrivals are down, locals are only beginning to go out, many events are still canceledµ, and retail affected badly.
There is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, and this increases stress in the community. Companies can play an important to play in support of this situation, but they need to keep calm and manage communications internally and externally effectively. So how should companies manage their communications during this trying period?
- Business continuity
Employees and other stakeholders will be concerned about the business continuity plans for their companies if the virus were to worsen. Organizations should have proactive and transparent policies which will protect the livelihoods of their employees. Organizations should include newer additions such as flexible work arrangements and remote working to contain the risks to the workforce and the economy.
- Employee safety
Employee safety should be the highest priority on the list. Organizations should have clear and simple to understand safety guidelines to assure employees that they will provide a safe working environment. Public facing employees need to know that they have support and equipment where necessary to keep them safe.
Constant engagement and monitoring are required to find out the problems early so corrective actions can be taken.
- Customer safety
Safety guidelines and new processes should be designed and incorporated in view of the current situation. Disinfectants or hand-sanitizers should be within reach of touchscreen ordering-kiosks at fast food restaurants as these surfaces can potentially be a medium to spread the virus.
Food handling staff of restaurants may also need heighten level of supervision to sure safety guidelines are followed.
- Employee mental well-being
Opening channels of communications and developing a platform for employee feedback and providing flexibility within the company’s capacity can help remove anxiety of many employees in this stressful situation.
Being transparent and providing timely updates on projects whether it may be delayed or canceled will help reduce anxiety and concerns.
- CSR Communication
A company should not take advantage of the situation if it wishes to engage in support of the community in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19.
Companies should help amplify correct information from the government and WHO and curb fake news from spreading. All communications should be simple, transparent and fact-based.
All companies have a major role & responsibility to play, especially in times of public health challenge. Together with the community and the government, we can do our part to ensure all of their stakeholders, employees and customers have the information they need to feel safe and supported.
There are already several companies providing free food for our medical staff in show of support. It is important to show support to all service personnel during this crisis.
We are all in this together, let us support those in need and come out of this situation as one.
CSR is not Complicated and Expensive
Many companies think that only large corporations can engage in CSR, and CSR costs a lot of money. On the contrary, many social enterprises are thriving in Singapore, and all they practice is sustainability and inclusivity.
All it takes is creativity and innovation.
Working on a project with Milo, they wanted to do a gift-with-purchase, giving a ceramic mug with a purchase of 3-in-1 Milo sachets. In many other gift-with-purchase projects, the mug would be packed separately in a box with cushion and placed together with the 3-in-1 Milo sachets. They decided to reduce plastic use and packaging materials and after several iterations of designs, the above box was created.
The result of thinking a little more for packaging design can have a big effect. Having a smaller form factor reduces materials used, shipping size, shelf space and is good the the environment. If the solution could be kept simple with no new materials to support the structure, there is a lot of cost savings as well.
This is actually true for a lot of new CSR projects. As long as more thoughts and considerations are put in on design, the end result usually do not cost more, and it could save costs in the long run as well.
There are simple ways to transform your business and do CSR at the same time, here are 7 key principles of social responsibility:
- Ethical behavior
- Respect for stakeholder interests
- Respect for the rule of law
- Respect for international norms of behavior
- Respect for human rights
Incorporating them into business processes, designs and have extra thoughts does not hurt and cost more money. Being ethical can in fact save costs in the long run by avoiding lawsuits.
Having a CSR program is simply putting some of these social responsibility on top of every decision you make, taking the extra mile of doing the right thing. With proper communications and strategy, business who practice this can be a strong force of good.
Businesses can affect the community and businesses are in fact a part of the community. We have seen the effects of businesses focusing on profits and many are starting to realize the consequences of our actions in the community. Many customers today are also critical about how companies behave and CSR may soon become a requirement.
Are you considering what impact your company has on society?
Helping others may give you purpose and you may find meaning from it. It is a fundamental part of humanity. But do you think it is possible to over do things? Does “over-helping” exist?
Of course it does!
Everyone deserves dignity, and certainly, helping while imposing your values on others — because you help them — can impair autonomous decision making, and harm the whole community. When you help others out of pity, it also affects their self-worth, and this can be seen in how some people on long aid can be stuck in a negative spiral with low self-esteem.
Treating other people with dignity means treating them the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. I have observed many corporate giving and charities – interested in only the giving and ignoring the impact caused by the giving. I would say that their thoughts and resources may be needed, but the approach needs to have a major overhaul.
Working in many post disaster areas, I’ve seen how International aid can destroy local economies and Eco-systems. The massive amounts of free food imported and donated creates a situation where local farmers cannot sell their crops. Earthquakes do not damage farms, at least, not as much as the foreign food aid.
A log of times, some government run welfare organization or large charities will label marginalized people as “helpless”, “needy” and “underprivileged”. However, these labels are also often used to encapsulate entire communities like the disability community.
Being viewed as pitiful, helpless and financially dependent, stereotyped as welfare recipients or associated with tales of tragedy is humiliating. This is also not a positive or accurate portrayal of the vast majority of people with disabilities. Such views also create a divide and can create a negative perception towards the disabled community which will create biases and prejudice.
Our views on refugees from various advertisements paint a bleak picture of the future of refugees. Refugees are also viewed negatively and create low self-esteem among them. This portrayal is not helpful as it creates depression with the “refugees” label among the refugees. Not all refugees are equal. Many refugees from Eastern Europe and more recently, Syria, have resources and skills. Thinking of them as needy, helpless people does not help their situation at all.
Our biases shapes our solutions
When you think of Refugees as “helpless” or “needy”, you do not expect much from them and simply find ways to give them things which you think they need. Most of the time, the focus is more in the giving and helping, and little on engagement on finding out what they need most.
I’ve worked with Syrian Refugees, Survivors of Natural Disasters and various other internally displaced people, and I must clarify one thing — these are not helpless or needy people at all. In post disaster areas, these people are survivors, who despite the conditions, are still thriving. There may be some resources that they are lacking at the moment, but they certainly do not need most of the things given to them.
In Haiti, there are so many things given to the 2010 earthquake survivors. I’ve seen stacks of Yoga mats given to each family — so much that they can use it as a bed. Do not think that your donations do not do harm – on the contrary, disaster areas with damaged waste management logistics will face a bigger issue when aid is dumped on them. They may need water, but dumping bottled water into rural communities will create a plastic waste problem that can easily turn into a dengue or malaria problem.
A lot of Syrian refugees are actually skilled. Many of them have degrees and speak multiple languages, certainly no the helpless and needy refugees depicted in many ads. But when we think of them as helpless and needy, we do not give them what then need — jobs and opportunities to contribute to society.
In helping, we need to preserve dignity. Corporation may think they are doing good by giving food to the box collectors or people living in one room flats, but with poor coordination and execution, many of the recipients do not actually need the food and it ends up wasting food.
Doing Charity and having good intentions is desirable, but without engagement, poor communications can result in misunderstanding and the beneficiary losing their dignity and self worth. This is worse when the donor does it out of pity, and expects some kind of gratitude from the engagement.
Poor people are not stupid. They lack money, connections and resources. Many people may have fallen through the cracks and landed in a bad situation, but they certainly do not need your pity.
The problem with some CSR programs or charities trying to continuously provide aid and support is that you can give food, money and shelter, but you can never provide dignity that way. Fighting depression and a whole list of other problems, a simple action of giving food does not solve their problems and can worsen depression.
Understanding Dignity is important when it comes of a sustainable CSR program with the community and we look at ways to empower communities to solve their problems, but just provide aid to plug the holes. Successful programs need to get the communities out of the situation, rather than add more people into the programs with the situations worsening.
Remember: Treating other people with dignity means treating them the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. As dignity is one of the most important things to the human spirit.
Better Brand Experience During COVID-19 for Retail
After working with a few clients and experiencing the panic buys first hand, here are some tips that we want to share that we feel that other countries that may be experiencing this can learn.
It is important to take note that there is going to be Panic Buys during the COVID-19 Crisis globally. Shops that sell essentials should consider the welfare for the more vulnerable customers.
During a rush and panic buy, the situation can create risks of spreading the virus or injuries to vulnerable customers. In view of this situation, Supermarkets, Pharmacies and other stores which may sell essentials that are in high demand, should:
- Ensure enough quantity.
The supply chain may be disrupted, so having more stock for products in demand is important.
- Restrict sales.
For products like toilet paper, hand sanitizers and other food items, restrict sales to customers to prevent a few customers from buying everything. Empty shelves will only fuel the fear.
- Have Senior Friendly Sales Day.
Keep some stock and restock for a “Senior Sales Day” to allow seniors to go shop at a less frantic environment.
- Restrict the number of shoppers.
If your shop has limited space and limited payment counters, limit the number of people in the store. People will either wait in long queues within the store, increase the risks of spreading the virus or let them wait in line to enter the store. Those who are not buying essentials can see the queue and come back later, instead of waiting in line at the checkout counter.
- Post signs of items that are stocked out at the entrance.
If you know people are buying an item that is sold out, put BIG signs and display items sold out at the entrance. Customers do not need to enter and waste their time.
Little actions do add up to improve the better brand experience and reducing the amount of shoppers in the store, having less queues at the checkout counters, can also reduce the risks of spreading the virus to the staff.
Every little bit helps.
Let’s cooperate and end this pandemic soon!