When we speak about sustainability, most people default to the environmental aspect – the focus on preserving nature and conserving our natural resources. But that view overlooks an important component to the broader, “three pillars” of sustainability – which also takes into account economic and social impacts.

 

It’s this social component of sustainability, or the giving back to the community, that is essential to remaining relevant in today’s competitive landscape. In fact, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of job seekers won’t take a position if the potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility practices, according to a recent study on millennial employee engagement.

 

So how does a company that’s looking to attract and retain talent today ensure that their efforts to support the fabric of their local communities are a success?

 

Here are three tips we’ve learned from our own community investment experience:

 

  1. Align to the company’s core mission 

Aligning social outreach efforts to your company’s core mission is critical to ensuring it remains embedded in the company culture. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that profitable companies have programs aligned with the company’s purpose and values.

For example, Domtar aligns its both volunteer experiences and its corporate giving to the products we make.  While there are countless good causes out there that the company could support, a focus on sustainability, literacy and health & wellness connects to our core mission, ensuring that our efforts make sense as part of a wider strategy.

 

  1. Empower employees to engage at the local level

Without the support of your employees, attempts at community investment can come off as disingenuous.  A better approach is when grassroots efforts are supported.   Providing the opportunity for employees to personally volunteer for a particular project brings the message of social sustainability home.

Now entering its seventh year, Domtar’s EarthChoice Ambassador Program does just this by inviting employees to make a difference in the world via various types of community investment — holding recycling drives, volunteering with local nonprofit organizations and more.

Even better is when the employees themselves have a say in the efforts that are supported. Having this “skin in the game” often leads to even greater buy-in than situations where a cause is mandated by upper management.

 

  1. Assess, Adjust, Repeat

As with any project or program, it’s important to keep things fresh. Finding time to reassess if community investment programs are as efficient and effective as they could be is critical. Domtar’s strategy for measuring the hours, dollars and communities impacted is taken very seriously. Each year, the organization reviews annual reports sent by its partners that recap the initiatives throughout the year, providing stories that illustrate the impacts made in local communities.

 

It’s also worth noting is that this process doesn’t have to be boring.  For example, each December, the EarthChoice Ambassadors recap the previous 12 months with an engaging infographic that details the various projects that were undertaken across the company. This review process provides the proof that can back up the time, money and effort spent in community investments all year round, while also highlighting opportunities for improvement.

 

One of the best parts about community investment is that it goes beyond simply volunteering and donating money. Promoting true social sustainability inspires action within the communities in which businesses work, live and play – making them more viable for the long term. Isn’t that what true sustainability is all about?

 

For more examples of how companies get more bang for their buck from their community investment efforts, please read this recent GreenBiz article.