Prof. Zhe Zhang of School of Management Fudan University makes an in-depth assessment of how Corporate Social Responsibility can be approached by companies through the case of the Chinese retail company Suning.
CSR: Caring for the future means caring for your business ecosystem by CoBS Editor Meghana Kuppinakere Mutt. Related case: Suning’s CSR Ecosystem: Management School, Fudan University case study, FDC-15006-1X-W-C.
Is CSR only limited to donating money when disaster strikes? Is it just planting a designated number of trees or is it only supporting a few NGOs? And can companies go beyond these and actually bring about meaningful social changes? If yes, then what is the path that companies can take to catalyse effective positive differences to the society and the environment?
This is what Profs. Zhang and Gu tackle – how CSR can go beyond just the surface-level activities – in their case study on Suning, a retail company in China. Real CSR, they argue, comes in getting together every stakeholder on board to drive a vision of societal and environmental impact.
Suning: A Deep Dive
Suning is particularly lauded for its comprehensive strategy to integrate social and environmental issues as part of its CSR strategy. When Suning was stepping into the world of internet technology, it made a conscious decision – to involve every stakeholder in its ecosystem in its digital transformation.
Suning focussed on the well-being of its SME suppliers who are an important part of their value chain. They operated in traditional ways which were not cost effective and were not optimized with respect to speed of operation. To resolve this issue, Suning made use of the same internet technology that was transforming their business to help these suppliers. Furthermore, Suning also equipped neighbourhood stores and warehouses with modern logistic and payment services, for faster operational activities. The company made sure that nobody in its value chain was left behind when it came to digital transformation.
Moving ahead, a true mark of a company understanding and caring for its consumers is when they truly think of the needs of the customer, beyond their business. In line with this notion, Suning established 10 million baby care rooms in their retail stores, where this move provided a safe environment for mothers to breastfeed their babies.
By taking these active steps, Suning set the ball rolling to truly care for all the important members of their ecosystem.
Environment – a key focus point
Suning aimed to maximize energy utilization in all aspects of its business operations – store renovations, logistics or merchandise selling. It did so by upholding the principles of low carbon emission. It actively participated in selling low-carbon products and optimised its operations to reduce energy usage. As a direct consequence of these strong principles, stakeholders in the value chain – be it manufacturers, suppliers or retail stores – were all in line with the sustainable strategy.
In addition, when Suning realised that their logistics was one of the main consumers of energy, they brought in cloud services to minimise energy consumption. They also managed the vehicles in transit by optimizing routes and developed mileage standards.
As such, customers also could recognize the efforts put in by Suning to be eco-friendly. They upgraded hardware and software solutions, improved their energy management and regulated the behaviours of their staff to gain knowledge of these sustainable steps taken by the company.
Suning – a social enterprise dimension
Suning always looked at itself as more of a social enterprise than a company, its philosophy putting social progress and overall economic development at the centre. For example, it motivated its employees to donate a part of their remuneration or to regularly volunteer their services. Additionally, it used its promising internet technology to drive growth in social organisations.
In line with this approach, it announced the formation of Social Channel. This consisted of two platforms – Social Donation and Social Crowdsourcing. With Social Donation, numerous social organisations transformed their operations to the online world. On the other hand, with Social Crowdsourcing, Sunning provided a platform to turn rural areas into revenue centres.
The integration of CSR activities
To sum up, Profs Zhang and Gu urge companies to integrate CSR into their vision and drive organisational changes to execute a CSR strategy that truly creates a difference. To do this, companies must take responsibility for their operations and actively involve their employees in streamlining CSR activities. Doing so will ensure that all stakeholders involved together can bring about an impact that is much greater and granular than those surface-level activities of donating money or planting trees.
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