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Thought Leadership

How COVID-19 Is Encouraging Corporate Social Responsibility

Learn how COVID-19 is shedding light on new opportunities for corporate social responsibility and tips to apply these strategies right now.

Shelby Bell | May 14, 2020


The world is currently facing a global health crisis unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended every aspect of life, from the economy to education, healthcare to business operations, and so much more. The pandemic has undoubtedly presented many challenges across industries, but it has also led to opportunities for businesses to evaluate the effectiveness of current strategies and identify new methods to improve their processes for the future. Read this blog post to understand how COVID-19 is shedding light on new opportunities for corporate social responsibility and pick up some tips to apply these strategies right now.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Let’s start out by defining Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is a business model whereby companies factor social causes, communities, and environmental best practices into their business operations. The popularity of CSR grew in the 1970s and has seen a number of iterations, including the concept of the Triple Bottom Line, which aligns sustainability with profitability by measuring a business’ success using economic, social, and environmental factors. For example, the Patagonia business model uses this concept by producing the highest quality products it can while causing no unnecessary harm to the environment.

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Corporate Social Responsibility

While many companies may have had intentions to pursue CSR this year, the COVID-19 crisis turned the world upside down bringing any initial plans to a screeching halt.

To slow the spread of the virus, businesses, from small restaurants to large corporations, have had to quickly adjust their operations to survive. Adjustments included temporarily closing, changing operating hours, implementing work from home orders, adding social-distancing measures, and more. Given the rapid spread of the virus and stakeholders needing to make quick decisions, losing sight of Corporate Social Responsibility has been a concern for many.

We’ve watched businesses reverse plastic bag bans and prohibit the use of reusable bags, while others have forbidden the use of reusable cups to slow the spread of the virus. We’ve also seen some businesses, like many in the fashion industry, put sustainability initiatives on hold altogether. In this unprecedented time, companies must do what they can to protect their employees and customers while not losing sight of corporate social responsibility and the impact it can have on a business’ bottom line.

While no business could have planned for the challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, they can certainly choose how best to respond to these trials while finding ways to reinforce their planned initiatives and preparation for the future. For this reason, focusing on CSR may be even more critical now than it was before the pandemic. Let’s take a look at how companies can use social responsibility to get through this difficult time.

Businesses should first ensure the safety and comfort of their employees so they feel empowered to continue positively impacting the business. They should also use this time to observe changes and see where to make improvements for employee well-being and satisfaction for the future. Focusing on maintaining and building relationships with customers is critical as well. Indeed, 87% of consumers will have a more positive image of a company that supports social or environmental issues. Be sure to communicate that your business understands the current situation and strive to be transparent about what you're doing to help. Moreover, the crisis is also an opportunity to observe exposed areas of business that need improvement when it comes to minimizing environmental impacts. Let’s explore this thought in more detail.

Maintaining Sustainability During a Pandemic

Whether companies realize it or not, applying social responsibility to their business plan is not only helping protect employees and drive business, but is also naturally impacting a key pillar of CSR: Sustainability. In fact, the company referenced Bloomberg, which recently reported that the global lockdown has improved the air quality index to satisfactory levels in nearly 90 percent of the 103 cities examined.

While stakeholders are busy doing what is most important for their respective companies, the COVID-19 crisis has worked to expose areas of the business that need improvement as well as which plans are still functional and worth maintaining in terms of sustainability. Businesses can use these observations to create and enhance their CSR processes during and after the pandemic. 

For example, the transition to virtual meetings instead of travel, where possible, has allowed companies to reassess travel policies. Incorporating this activity post-pandemic will not only save businesses time and money, but will also help reduce their carbon footprint. On the other hand, many businesses are finding new ways to maintain and improve their existing CSR initiatives introduced prior to the pandemic. Hoffmaster Foodservice, a high-end tableware company, has always prioritized using eco-friendly materials for its products. However, in response to growing food service needs amid the pandemic, Hoffmaster found ways to innovate and provide sanitary solutions for their products to better serve nursing homes and assisted living facilities, while continuing to keep their original sustainability goals top of mind. Companies committing to sustainability during the pandemic will see long-term impacts, including cost-savings, improved brand image, and happier employees.

How to Maintain CSR and Sustainability During The Pandemic

We hope that your business, employees, and customers stay protected at this time and bounce back stronger than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are a few ways to integrate corporate social responsibility procedures into your current business plans that will have positive impacts for the future:


Focus on your employees and customers

As the world navigates this unchartered territory together, employees and customers alike are counting on businesses for their support. Be sure to take this time to focus on areas of the business that need work as well as areas that are already successful from a sustainability or CSR perspective to help identify where you can improve processes, post-pandemic. Sharing your commitments and plans with your employees and the public will also help them feel safe while improving your brand image in the long-run.


Engage with online sustainability resources while working from home

Whether or not sustainability was internally prioritized before the virus, businesses can use some of their extra time to strategize environmental initiatives to incorporate into current processes to come out of this public health crisis stronger than before. In addition to encouraging stakeholders to evaluate the current CSR plan, encourage them to also search for and engage in online sustainability resources such as a circular economy webinar or a carbon footprint estimator⁠—This way, they will return to business well-educated and ready to make a difference!


 Adapt your business model as the world adjusts to a new normal

While working to slow the spread of the virus, use this time to plan, adapt, and enhance the social responsibilities of your organization once it returns to business as usual. As mentioned earlier, all businesses can consider if air travel is necessary and encourage virtual meetings where possible. Furthermore, rewarding employees for recycling and composting, donating or disposing of materials in the office, and incorporating work from home opportunities to reduce energy use and travel emissions are all responsible actions. Considering these approaches now will help businesses gain profit, improve customer satisfaction as well as drive employee loyalty and build brand reputation.


Much like operating a business, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for applying corporate social responsibility plans. We’d love to know what kind of sustainability initiatives your business is undertaking! Feel free to leave us a comment, or get in touch to learn how RoadRunner can help your organization improve its social responsibility.



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