Corporate Trust as a CSR Dividend

For companies committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR), there is a belief that all those good deeds will be rewarded with new business – but scant hard evidence.

Image Microsystems (IM), of Austin, Texas, stands as one of the few companies that can ascribe new business gains to its core values of sustainability and community, which are achievements that have been squarely leveraged by public relations to even better effect.

• IM has the world’s only patent-pending technology that can recycle e-waste into a substrate product that can replace, for example, aluminum in road signs. Called MicroStrate, this new product recycles dirty plastics like ink jet cartridges.
• 40% of IM’s 250-person workforce is deaf or has special needs, which is a commitment to diversity few other companies can imagine, let alone match.

This impressive Double Whammy of CSR makes a compelling pitch in IM’s quest for new business at a time when more companies are adopting sustainability and looking for proven partners that can enhance CSR performance.

“CSR is more important to companies,” says Liz Walker, Image Microsystem’s Vice President, Marketing and Business Development, “and we have companies seeking us out knowing that we have the same mindset. Word gets around.”

Walker says that, IM’s revenues in the first six months of 2011 already match revenues for all of 2010, putting the company on target for 100% growth in the current year.

“I can directly attribute much of the growth [to] our diversity initiatives and our closed-loop, cradle-to-cradle process of converting e-waste into signage,” she explains. “Dell increased and extended its printer cartridge recycling contract with Image Microsystems because of our CSR commitments.”

“It’s an ideal partnership between companies with a shared philosophy,” says Dell in a blog post, which goes on to laud IM for being “a responsible partner” and “good community partner.”

Other clients include Office Max and NEW, the major extended warranty company for computer tech.

The Critical Role of PR

The Image Microsystems case study highlights the key elements of leveraging CSR elements for new business development:

• Integrating CSR values seamlessly into products, services and operations
• Broadcasting substantiated successes through effective PR channels.

In other words, it’s not enough to do a good job, you have to be seen doing that good job – or, even better, publicly praised for doing that good job by credible third parties.

Walker, who splits her time between marketing and stewarding the new MicroStrate business, says public relations has been her main outreach strategy, with a regular schedule of media-friendly press releases documenting achievements.

Tactically, Walker focuses PR on:

Awards: Identifying, applying to, winning and leveraging awards ceremonies among key market sectors has put the IM brand squarely in the lap of new customers. Since October, IM has won the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling Sustainability Award[Ie4] , Green Reverse Logistics Award from the Reverse Logistics Association and the Green Product Showcase Award from the International Sign Association and was named a Green Supply Chain Award Winner by Supply and Demand Chain Executive.
Speaking Engagements: As with other CSR programs, success is heightened by CEO-level champions who lead the crusade. At IM, the senior team regularly speaks about its CSR lessons, especially diversity. “We proselytize the concept to help other businesses grow,” says Walker. “No matter the person’s disability, there is something they can do and succeed.”
Strategic Partnerships: As a way of building strategic alliances, IM invited the Texas Department of Transportation to tour its MicroStrate plant, which proved to be the pivot that introduced the road sign opportunity. Independent testing shows MicroStrate to be a strong alternative to aluminum road signs because of its durability, low value for scavenging thieves, substantially lower carbon footprint and recyclability.

Media pick up of IM’s releases has resulted in global news coverage and solicitations from far-away markets such as Mexico, the UK, Canada, Germany and most of the Scandinavian countries, with signed letters of intent to purchase.

In November, IM will ramp up production to meet the new MicroStrate demand in a new 91,000-square-foot plant in suburban Austin.