Include responsibility in the fabric of every business model

Today’s consumers are paying attention in a very different way. To the quality of your product or service, yes, but also to your business practices and commitment to social issues. Is your company poised for success?

As Generation Z becomes a bigger segment of the American consumer market — it already spends $140 billion each year — companies that have not yet focused on social impact and sustainability will have no choice but to pivot to remain relevant. According to a recent McKinsey study, nine out of 10 members of this up-and-coming generation feel a responsibility to environmental and social issues in their buying habits.

This commitment to social impact must authentically represent your brand’s values. Gen Z, the generation of digital natives, has grown up online during a tumultuous period of rising inequalities and the alarming acceleration of climate change. This generation has had to navigate information in ways previous generations have not. Members of Gen Z feel a sense of urgency and are discriminant of brands that do not back up their messaging with action. To truly thrive in the coming years, companies must build real trust through their messaging and weave social impact through their operations, not merely as an artifact of public-facing communications.

So, how can companies incorporate social responsibility into their existing business models?

Take stock of your brand’s values and identity equity. What do you do? What do you stand for? Build your social impact strategy around your strengths. An oft-cited example is Patagonia. The brand represents the outdoors and appreciation of nature, and hence, builds its business around thoughtful consumption.

The company’s retail locations are closed on Black Friday, and it donates its online sales on that day to causes that respond to the environmental crisis. Its mission statement, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” effectively weaves operations and messaging, making it one of the strongest brands for this generation.

Ask, “Where can we make the most impact?” A good place to start is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, or Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015, identifying 17 of the greatest challenges we face today. Governments, corporations and NGOs are coalescing around these connected goals as a way to collectively focus and create synchronous and symbiotic initiatives. The food industry, for example, cross-cuts SDG 2 (End Hunger) and SDG 12 (Sustainable Consumption), among many others.

Know how to measure your impact. Measurement is key to accountability; educated consumers (hence, those who will be your most loyal) will demand a rubric for understanding your impact beyond messaging. Again, a good place to start are the SDGs that identify not only the 17 major goals but over 160 targets and 230 measures to assess the impact of these goals. Following the food industry example above, SDG 12.3 is to “halve global per capita food waste by 2030” — food companies can incorporate internal goals that mirror this global goal.

Change is here. The times when the “triple bottom line” was the exception are waning and consumers — and increasingly, investors — are driving it to the norm. To riff off of David Bowie, companies must turn and face the change.

Leah Lizarondo is founder & CEO of Food Rescue Hero and co-founder & CEO of 412 Food Rescue