Corporate Trust as a CSR Dividend

From there to here

While Image Microsystem’s business trajectory was firmly set toward the reverse logistics and recycling sector, the diversity push was an unexpected goldmine.

IM was founded in 1992 as a manufacturer and seller of computers, but shifted focus over the years toward IT parts and components and now to “reverse logistics” – meaning, in this case, that IM diverts IT parts, equipment and waste from garbage heaps and incinerators by repairing, remarketing and recycling.

According to the UN Environment Program up to “50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are generated worldwide every year, comprising more than 5% of all municipal solid waste. In the US alone, some 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out every year.”

In 2005, Toni Abadi, an expert in American Sign Language, convinced her Image Microsystems CEO husband, Alex Abadi, to hire two deaf workers.

As a pilot project, the first hires were so successful, that IM entered into partnership with Texas School for the Deaf, offering internships and employment opportunities. It was an experiment with substantial cultural and business development dividends.

Special needs employees, says Walker, are generally reliable, hardworking, appreciative and have lower turnover. In one case, a team overseeing printer returns at IM is 80% deaf, including the supervisor.

Corporate Trust as a CSR Dividend

When companies like Image Microsystems adopt sustainable business strategies, the mantra is “People, Planet and Profits” – the vaunted Triple Bottom Line that guides organizations through their commitments to Corporate Social Responsibility.

One way to evaluate the “pay off” for companies that invest in CSR is the gain in improved levels of corporate trust.

“Sustainability and trust create a virtuous cycle,” says Barbara Kimmel, the Executive Director of Trust Across America, an independent research company. “Because trust is an inherent element of optimism that buoys any economy, companies that understand the correlation between trust and sustainable business create greater value for all stakeholders, in addition to ’doing the right thing.’”

She adds: “A trustworthy organization is innovative and collaborative, leading to an even more sustainable business, driven by new products and their resulting revenue.”

In November 2010, Trust Across America identified 59 companies – the “Gold 59” including brands like Aflac, Fed Ex, Lexmark and Cigna — that met its benchmark standard for trustworthy business behavior and compared their performance since 1999 against the S&P 500.

“These companies have already outperformed the S&P by approximately 35% since we began tracking them in November 2010, and it’s no fluke,” says Kimmel. “If someone had been smart enough to have picked those same companies in 1999, they’d have outperformed the S&P by over 500%.”

The Halo Effect

At Image Microsystems, PR has proven to be the bridge between good deed and new business – catalyzing customer development, improved brand awareness, industry kudos, and enhanced employee morale, among other benefits.

As a take away, the strategy at IM boils down to this:

• Communicating CSR values by living CSR values (integrated throughout products, services and operation)
• Bragging effectively and in the appropriate channels when there is substance about which to boast
• Engaging CEO champions as prophets of CSR business strategies
• Converting audiences to customers through good deeds that reflect positively on those customers.

“Focusing on CSR and publicizing it through public relations tactics has a direct and positive impact to not only your bottom line but also for employees and how your company is perceived in the marketplace,” says Walker. “It creates a halo effect for customers.”

Ian Edwards is Executive Vice President Sustainable Communications Consulting at Arcadia in New York.