For companies today, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one of the most commonly-heard and crucial topics. Alessandro Capelli, CSR Manager at Altavia Italia, brings his expert eye on the subject.
How have market expectations changed over the last few years? How is the construction of a CSR plan changing?
Over the last few years, a number of things have happened. First and foremost, since 2008, we have been suffering the effects of one of the worst economic crises the modern world has ever seen. This crisis, far from being a passing phenomenon, has had radical impacts even on development models. Citizens of the western world seem to have got the message and, over the last ten years, this has changed both their consumer awareness when making a purchase and their lifestyle in general. They perceive a crisis generated by huge amounts of capital, uncontrollable in real life: billions lost in a day, a financial game which most citizens cannot understand, but which has a major impact on the most fundamental aspects of their lives. This is why companies that are able to build relationships of trust with consumers and the local area, through concrete and easily understandable measures, are destined to grow and become stronger.
Secondly, the entire scientific community today is warning us that the world we live in is prey to a genuine energy, environmental and social crisis: for the first time, this warning concerns the immediate future, i.e. our generation and that of our children. Moreover, thanks to the increasing spread of social networks, people have more direct access to (and therefore oversight of) companies’ activities. This means that nobody can now hide behind ‘green-washing’ policies; there is thus increasingly less space for ‘spin’ as regards transparency and sustainability. Either you are, or you aren’t: that’s the point. Companies which are not sustainable suffer from a poor image and are losing more and more market share. Therefore, the real difference compared with the past is that CSR is now a strategic component of development for all businesses.
Corporate social responsibility is now developed in various directions, not only with regard to the environment, but also society as a whole. In social matters, above all, greater attention is paid to what happens ‘in the neighbourhood’ – the focus is no longer solely on crises which are affecting the other side of the world, but also projects with an impact on the local area.
Do you feel that a good CSR strategy offers greater benefits to consumers or the companies that implement them?
Good CSR strategies work if they guarantee benefits to consumers, companies and the planet. CSR works when it is able to build alliances. Therefore, when companies integrate sustainability into their production processes, they do so both because it is the right thing to do and because, from that strategic vision, they manage to increase their credibility and reputation for sustainability, including over the long term. For companies, there should be no competition between commercial development and sustainability; it should not be considered a tax to pay, but rather a virtuous element enabling construction of a business which will be able to last for the next 50 years.
On the other hand, when confronted by a business which they can recognise as sustainable, consumers will have more trust in what they consume. As we have said for some time now, there is no difference between consumer and citizen: a person who ‘consumes’ is an all-round citizen. And when he or she buys, it is with the awareness that such choices have an impact on the world we live in.
What are the most important challenges faced by CSR today?
I think that the fundamental challenge is to make SCR the rule for everyone and for every company. It would be lovely if, in the future, CSR could become a ‘given’. Imagine a future where the expression ‘CSR’ is no longer even necessary, because all companies already have to and indeed want to implement sustainability policies, with no need for any special announcements. The main challenge for CSR in the future will be the concept of circularity, in other words managing to integrate all production phases into a circular economy mechanism, both as regards environmental impact and their capacity to generate economic and social resources. The development of every company would thus not be at the expense of the local area, but genuinely to its benefit.
Altavia Italia has developed a number of CSR projects over the last few years. Could you tell us which Altavia project you feel gave you the greatest satisfaction or generated the best results?
From a symbolic perspective, an important first step was the ‘Porte ouverte’ dinner, which we held at Altavia. It was organised following the Paris attacks of 2015, when French citizens created the hashtag #PorteOuverte to use on social networks, followed by an address, to indicate a hiding place for those fleeing the attacks. We organised a dinner called #PorteOuverte at Altavia, together with certain social cooperatives and some of our partners, a chance for the people at Altavia (employees, friends, partners, etc.) to meet a group of Syrian refugees and unaccompanied foreign minors. The initiative lasted for only one evening, but was of great significance, both for what it represented and for the emerging idea that Altavia could be a meeting place, open to the public.
#PorteOuverte thus marked the origins of a new concept, Altavia Open, which has become a fundamental focus for Altavia today. Creating a space where we do not merely establish a company, but rather build a business in harmony with the local area, and developing a place where people can spend time, come to eat and work, be together and feel good – these have become the cornerstones of our new idea of CSR.
In connection with this, we are also extremely proud of our participation in ‘Milano Sei L’altro’, a project organised by the Cariplo Foundation, which seeks to establish an alliance between the public and private sectors, between businesses and non-profit enterprises. The project was built around the concept of community welfare, the idea that companies can actually constitute resources for their local area.
The fourth project I would like to discuss, which falls within the CSR initiatives connected with our main activity, was the ‘Together Without Walls’ communication campaign for two major events in Milan (held on 20 May 2016 and 21 June 2017), which sought to portray Milan as a city which will only be able to grow if it builds bridges, rather than walls. We feel this is ‘societal’ CSR, in the positive sense of the term – we worked together to communicate a message that we all believe in passionately.
Then, the environment is obviously absolutely crucial for us. By handling the whole range of printed communication, we can keep up to date all the certifications which guarantee not only reforestation for the paper we use, but also a low impact of our production process in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.
In this sense, once again as regards the press, the final project I would like to mention is Positive Sourcing®. This project arose from the idea of integrated CSR, envisaged not as a gift, but rather a mechanism that generates skills, professionalism and commercial development, for a purpose crucial to the values we believe in, such as making the employment of disadvantaged persons economically sustainable.
What do we do for the CSR of our clients?
For us, sustainability is a very serious matter. One of the areas of expertise at Altavia Italia is supporting retailers in developing their CSR strategy. We call this ‘Retail Humanization’, because we feel it is crucial to reinforce their sense of citizenship and awareness of sustainability issues, while helping them to share this commitment with their clients, so that their projects and initiatives become a real competitive advantage.