WestJet leads the way in corporate social responsibility (CSR) among companies in Canada, according to a study by the global research firm Reputation Institute.
Canadian Solar, Home Hardware, Empire Company (Sobeys), Jean Coutu Group, Premium Brands, Canadian Tire, Sun Life Financial, Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix and High Liner Foods rounded out the top ten of the most reputable Canadian companies in CSR.
In the Reputation Institute model, a score of 70 or more is considered strong. WestJet led the field with a CSR Index of 74.8, followed by Canadian Solar (73.0) and Home Hardware (70.6), with Empire Company, Jean Coutu Group and Premium Brands the only other companies also in the “strong” range (above 70).
The 2016 CSR RepTrak collected more than 40,000 ratings on more than 300 Canadian companies from about 20,000 people familiar with the firms.
“Generally, when a company does well in CSR rankings it’s doing the right things but it’s also communicating them effectively,” says Daniel Tisch, president and CEO of Argyle Public Relationships, the Canadian partner of the Reputation Institute. “There are a lot of companies that have good CSR stories to tell, but they’re not so powerful at telling them or they make a conscious choice to focus their communication and marketing on products, services and performance – things they believe are going to drive sales.”
Much of WestJet’s marketing and communications is focused on its workplace, how happy its employees appear to be and how the airline gives back to customers and the community, Tisch says. “What this shows is that sort of communication really works.”
Tisch says Argyle’s partnership with Reputation Institute began earlier this year and gives clients access to the world’s most comprehensive reputation research survey as well as the ability to benchmark Canadian organizations against the best in the world.
The study describes which companies are best regarded by consumers for such factors as having a positive societal influence, being environmentally friendly, operating with openness and transparency, behaving ethically, rewarding employees fairly and promoting employee well-being.
Since 2008 the research has found the dimensions that are embodied in corporate social responsibility — citizenship, governance and perceptions of the company’s workplace — are more and more important to the reputation of companies, Tisch says. “With CSR being more important to consumers every single year, who you are is even more important than what you do and we see it matter most of all to millennial consumers and employees.”
Millennials are most likely to link a company’s CSR to the likelihood of buying its products, recommending it to friends, as well as believing and supporting the company in a crisis.
Noting that retailers comprise half of the top ten Canadian companies in CSR, Tisch notes that consumer-facing businesses seem to have a head start. “There’s a built-in advantage if you’re in a business that has really strong consumer touch points. “
While consumer and transportation industries tend to have the highest CSR reputations, energy and financial services industries have the lowest, the study finds.
“Today, average companies see CSR as something that’s nice to do,” Tisch says. “Great companies see it as fundamental to who they are” and choose social responsibility initiatives that align with their businesses, employees and purposes.