Aligning Corporate Social Responsibility and Field of Membership

Credit unions can use corporate social responsibility like environmental projects to improve public relations, grow business and create efficiencies.

Sam Brownell


Jul 23



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Sam Brownell

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Sam Brownell

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Striking the balance between responsibility and growth

Every year like clockwork in the late summer or fall, credit unions rush to send in press releases about their stuff like a backpack or bus programs. Hundreds of them. These are great and worthy causes, but 1) What do they do for your credit union and 2) How can you make your good deeds stand out?

I know this will be uncomfortable for many people in credit union land. Credit unions like to do good for the sake of doing good, but that’s not all you owe your members. What credit unions owe members and their communities is financial services to empower them and the community, but most of all credit unions owe the members a thriving financial institution aligning with their goals. Like the mother of a newborn, credit unions do need to look out for themselves first before they can take care of anyone else.

Light through trees 2-1

When my father was a young buck, he worked for Weyerhaeuser’s reforestation program. Weyerhaeuser was a pioneer of corporate social responsibility. He would go out to fields and forests and report back about the soil qualities, the trees that were growing there and what trees would grow well in the area for replanting. The company’s goals were to replace what they’d taken for lumber and paper, necessary consumer goods, plus earn goodwill as a company that cared about the environment it was disrupting. Having more trees to eventually harvest is also a critical issue for the sustainability of Weyerhaeuser’s business as well as the environment. It is at the core of the business.

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Unilever is one repeatedly voted one of the most admired companies in the world. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan underpins the company’s strategy and commits to:

> Helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.

> Halving the environmental impact of our products by 2030.

> Enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people by 2020.

Why does this matter? Consumer research shows that more half of all consumers already buy or want to buy sustainably. One in three (33%) already purchase products with sustainability in mind, and a further 21% do not currently but would like to. The plan creates business value by driving growth and consumer trust, eliminating costs and reducing risks.

Where’s the proof of the effectiveness of corporate social responsibility on the bottom line?  Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands delivered more than 60% of the company’s total growth in 2016, up from 46% the previous year, and grew more than 50% faster than the rest of the business in 2016.

What’s at the core of your business? The members! What’s important to them? Have you ever asked? Let’s say your field of membership is employees of a company like Unilever or Weyerhaeuser and their greatest concern is the environment. How could your credit union weave that mission into its overall strategy?

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  • Commit to upgrading technology with the goals of reducing real estate footprint and paper use
  • Provide some of that newfound space for an organic community garden
  • Donate some of the harvest to feed people in need
  • Recycle everything feasible
  • Outsource shredding to an environmentally responsible company
  • Review the rest of your supply chain to encourage sustainable behavior
  • Commit to LEED-certified branches and offices
  • Offer special rates or terms on environmentally friendly vehicles
  • Collaborate with a local car dealership on a hybrid or electric vehicle giveaway

All great and worthy work that ties your credit union’s brand to what the consumers in your field of membership care about most. The technology upgrades are investments that will pay dividends in less needed real estate, more efficient member service and lower paper expenses, while environmentally friendly buildings result in lower electric bills between reductions heating, cooling and lighting.

The greatest return may be in the public relations that can be earned from sustainability efforts. Upgraded mobile banking platform that saves member trips to the credit union gets shared in a press release, advertising and social media, not only as a member service but a gas saver, too! Reduced paper usage percentage in the first year? Let people know. Bringing the community together to work the garden and share the fruits of their labor? Priceless community and media relations. Hosting community shred days with a company that recycles after it shreds can lead to collaborative marketing and PR for twice the bang for the buck.

Credit unions do so much good in the community. Make it good for your credit union, too. You owe it to your members.

Field of Membership Expansion

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