Community service: global brands

Profits are just one side of the coin: through close collaboration with non-profit entities, global brands can make a positive difference to the world around them

Many hands make light work so the saying goes and the 1,000 additional volunteers helping the San Francisco Parks Alliance this month are certainly doing wonders for the city’s green spaces.

The outgoing Californians, chatting away with their fellow workers as they plant, paint, garden, weed and clean, are clearly passionate about the civic work they are doing. Some are strangers to one another but many of them have crossed paths at a neighbourhood café and, actually, it is that coffee shop that has brought them together now.

Each year, Global Month of Service, the flagship product of coffee giant’s Starbucks’ community involvement strategy, facilitates 75,000 volunteers to engage with 2,700 projects, across 40 countries.

“Coming together in service represents a fundamental act of citizenship that inspires individuals, businesses and community members to work together to create a stronger, more cohesive society,” says Blair Taylor, Starbucks Chief Community Officer.

It is a truly global initiative. In Dubai this month Starbucks volunteers are working with the Dubai Centre for Special Needs to make it a better place to live. Here, 65 Starbucks partners and customers are set to complete a range of useful projects including painting walls, landscaping flower gardens, planting vegetables and renovating the centre’s kitchen.

Through engaging with philanthropic and community initiatives consumers are showing their preference for brands that add meaning and do good for the world around them. For businesses, it pays to be ethical. In fact numerous studies, including the Goodbrand’s Social Equity Index, show the way a company behaves towards its customers and communities is influential for consumers considering a purchase.

Iconic footwear brand Timberland is another business that has been successful in building its social equity through embedding ethical practices and increasing awareness of the company's responsible approach. As part of its CSR strategy, a network of ‘Global Stewards’ lead community greening and revitalization projects and in 2012 Timberland employees completed more than 145 service projects worldwide.

In the UK, Innocent Drinks proves that a meaningful brand can be fun. It has established a strong brand identity and an ethical personality backed up with a number of community initiatives including the ‘Big Knit’. Each year, the initiative sees Innocent’s own customers making knitted ‘hats’ for Innocent smoothie bottles in order to raise money for charity Age UK, and help older people stay warm in winter.

Commercial interests will always drive businesses but if they begin to use their scale as a catalyst for positive change that can only be a good thing for the world at large.