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If You're Going to Do It, Do It Right

Over the past three decades, there has been a shift away from the profits, profits, profits mindset. Businesses have become increasingly aware of the value of relationships with the voluntary sector from both a marketing perspective and as an answer to shareholders’ concerns for greater community involvement around social issues.1

When you consider that 86% of Americans favour companies that are responsible and 73% prioritize ones that give back to important causes2, there’s clearly an appetite from consumers to see companies establish and follow more socially responsible business practices. Ones that minimize the impact on the environment as well as make a positive contribution to society through charitable partnerships.

Though, as is the case with most things, there are some companies who are leading the charge while others are falling behind. We profile three corporate social responsibility (CSR) leaders and the initiatives they have undertaken to help solve some of our society’s greatest problems, like hunger and climate change.


Walmart Canada’s dedication to CSR starts at the top and is ingrained throughout the business at all levels. Through their core focus on creating economic opportunity, enhancing sustainability and strengthening community resilience, the company has shown a purposeful commitment to helping communities around the world, spearheading initiatives to fight hunger and provide access to healthy, affordable foods. From the time they first entered the Canadian market 25 years ago, Walmart Canada has worked closely with food banks to help create a Canada where families don’t have to choose between food and other necessities, like shelter. In 2011, they consolidated their efforts nationally through a partnership with Food Banks Canada, which has enabled even greater support for local food banks. Since the partnership began, Walmart has donated more than 16 million pounds of food and $10.5 million to food banks in Canada.3

Fight Hunger. Spark Change.

In 2017, Walmart launched the Fight Hunger. Spark Change campaign in Canada. A multi-faceted fundraising drive that emboldens Canadians to take up the fight against hunger. This year customers were given four easy ways to support the campaign: through the purchase of participating products from brand partners with a portion of the proceeds being donated to Food Banks Canada,donations at the register or online, and food donations at stores. The Fight Hunger. Spark Change campaign has helped to provide more than 35 million meals to Canadians in the past three years.4


Patagonia is a CSR darling, and for good reason. Among other things, its mission statement includes, building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to protect nature.5 These aren’t just words on a website, Patagonia repeatedly puts its money and actions where its mouth is. Creatively expanding its reach through innovative initiatives like 1% for the Planet and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the company continues to make good on its environmental promise. It looks like consumers like what they’re seeing as brand awareness has risen and sales have quadrupled in the last decade.6


1% for the Planet

Since the introduction of this initiative over 30 years ago, at least 1% of Patagonia’s sales have gone to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Thus far, $175 million has been donated to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups.7 Upping its game in 2018, the company donated the $10 million it saved as a result of new corporate tax cuts to green groups working on conservation and climate issues.8

The Coalition

In 2010, the company co-founded the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) with Walmart. The coalition uses a standardized supply chain management tool to track and compare the environmental and social labour impact of the products its members produce. Initially a handful of companies, today SAC has over 200 high-profile members of the clothing, footwear and home textile industries worldwide. Shoppers can view the results and use their wallets to decide what companies they will support.


One may think that because Subway restaurants are franchise-based that it would be difficult to have a cohesive CSR strategy but that certainly isn’t the case. Whether it’s the commitment to the communities in which it operates through responsible supply chain management, ensuring humane animal welfare practices, protecting the planet through greener environmental practices or supporting the health and well-being of its customers by being cognizant of the ingredients it uses – doing good is in Subway’s corporate genes.

World Sandwich Day

Subway partnered with Feeding America and Food Banks Canada in 2016 to celebrate World Sandwich Day, with the launch of the Buy One, Give One Campaign. Over the past three years in Canada, Subway has provided more than 3.5 million meals to food banks across the country and since the initiative was rolled out globally, Subway has donated the monetary equivalent of over 26 million meals around the world.

Fresh Partnerships

Subway has been viewed as one of the leaders among quick service restaurants in the fight against obesity, focusing on serving up fresh ingredients sourced from hundreds of farmers in the United States and Canada. And, it helps its customers make informed food choices by listing calories on its menus – something the company voluntarily did several years before it was mandated to do so by government.9

Commitment Carries the Day

There’s no one right way to do CSR, but if there’s one thing that unites all these “best practices” examples, it’s commitment. These companies are going the extra mile because there’s a clear sense that the leadership at the top believe in what they are doing, and want to make a lasting impact. And the results speak for themselves.


1 Mary Foster & Agnes Meinhard, Corporate social responsibility in the Canadian context: The new role of corporations in community involvement and social
issues, Ryerson University Faculty of Business, Working Paper Series, No. 20, November 2002.


High-Impact Giving: How to Make the Most of Your Corporate Partnership Budget

Rarely will a charity say no if you offer to cut a cheque in support of its cause. For a long time, that was the way businesses interacted with charities. While those relationships likely made you and the benefactor of your donation feel good, it was decidedly one-sided – benefitting the charity and leaving you wondering how much of an impact you made after the warm fuzzies had worn off.There are ways, however, to move from this “one and done” mindset and create more meaningful charitable partnerships. Below, we’ll share some examples of how to maximize the impact for your business and better serve your charitable partners in the process.

Seek Partners Who Share Your Values

Look to partner with charities that support communities or issues that align with the core values of your business. The benefit is twofold. You strengthen your reputation and brand by demonstrating to your employees, stakeholders and customers that your commitment to your core values is genuine.And, by supporting charities that have similar objectives, you’re able to create a partnership based on shared values and a commitment to achieving common goals.

You may not achieve this right out of the gate. Make sure you understand the strategic direction of the charity you’re working with. Meaningful consultations will allow you to share your expertise and your view from the outside, and may even help steer the charity forward. This dialogue ensures there’s a mutual understanding of what you’re hoping the partnership achieves. It also ensures that the charity’s long-term vision is in alignment with the values and objectives of your company.

Set Goals

Don’t just give and forget about it. Establish clear goals and a method to measure progress toward each of those goals. For instance, if you’ve decided to partner with an organization like Food Banks Canada, you could set a goal to increase the amount of fresh produce available in food banks across Canada by 10% over a certain period of time. Without a vision of what success looks like, there is no way to assess the progress of the partnership – making it impossible to quantify the impact of your initiative. Be mindful that goal setting isn’t done in isolation. It’s important to talk to your charitable partner to ensure you both understand what you’re each trying to achieve and that these objectives complement each other. If they don’t think your goals align with theirs or are unrealistic, the chances of making headway are minimal.

Engage Your Employees

With an increasing number of employees looking to work for an organization whose values resonate with their own2, partnering with a charity is an opportunity for you to reinforce the values of your company through the eyes of your employees. Choosing charitable partnerships that resonate with your employees will increase engagement as it tethers them to a shared purpose, beyond just products and services and helps your employees connect to that purpose.3 The beneficial side effect of a more engaged workforce includes increased innovation, productivity and bottom-line performance while reducing costs related to hiring and retention.Employee engagement will only increase if your employees believe you, as part of the leadership team, have an authentic commitment to these projects. This means going beyond a speech at the kick-off meeting and carving out time to join your volunteers at events and interacting with the charity itself. To increase the probability that you and your employees maintain momentum over the long haul, develop a realistic implementation strategy that recognizes and secures the necessary resources. Create an accountability chain to keep energy behind the project. Without this, you diminish the potential success of future initiatives and risk losing credibility with your employees as a result.

Tell People About It

It’s all well and good to engage in social and environmental activities but if nobody knows you’re doing it, you’ve missed a huge opportunity to promote your business and brand. Along with some good press, you have the chance to encourage others to join your cause by crafting the narrative around why people should care. As well, if your commitment is beyond a one-time event, it will require a significantly higher level of engagement from you and your employees to keep the momentum going. Through frequent, transparent communication, you can reiterate goals, provide status updates and reinvigorate your team’s energy for the project.Like any relationship, finding the right one takes time. Don’t rush it. Figure out what you want from your charitable partnership before you go looking for one. Because it’s hard to get what you want if you don’t know what you are trying to find.

At Food Banks Canada, we believe in true partnerships. Contact us to see how we can maximize your corporate dollars through innovative, transformative programs.

At Food Banks Canada, we believe in true partnerships. Contact us to see how we can maximize your corporate dollars through innovative, transformative programs.




Is CSR Mandatory or Just a Marketing Ploy?

Trust in CEOs and their companies was down last year in Canada, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. In contrast, the same study shows that Canadians are returning to more traditional authority figures like the government and journalists for their information, trusting them more than business or even NGOs.1


Where does this leave business leaders in this country when almost two-thirds of the study group believe CEOs’ actions are driven by greed and not a genuine desire to do good?

It leaves them with an opportunity to stand out for the right reasons, that’s where. Bearing all of this in mind, an authentic corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative for a business is no longer a nice-to-do, it’s a have-to-do. It has never been more important for business leaders to ensure any commitments to doing good are genuine and show a measurable impact on environmental or societal issues. Media savvy, cynical consumers are just not going to be satisfied by flashy marketing campaigns disguised as CSR programs anymore.

The internet is lauded and demonized for all manner of things, but a typically unanimous opinion is that it has given individuals unparalleled access to information right at their fingertips. This means it has never been easier for someone to check up on a company’s business practices to gain a better understanding of whether its actions match its stated values. Citizens today can be extremely effective watchdogs, shining a light on business practices that simply don’t measure up.

The Employee Sniff Test

Employees are the engine of a business – if they’re happy, the business usually runs smoother. Which is why many companies are focusing on increasing employee engagement to improve job satisfaction in the workplace. What puts a damper on employee engagement? Insincere CSR activities, that’s what. And employees are becoming better at sniffing them out. A 2016 study revealed that employees increasingly have the ability to distinguish between substantive CSR programs and symbolic ones. In cases where employees have identified a CSR initiative as symbolic or greenwashing, they viewed the company as a taker rather than a giver and often became less engaged in the workplace as a result.2

Throw Millennials into the mix and the impetus to do CSR well becomes that much more amplified. Accounting for almost 40% of the workforce3, Millennials are now the single largest cohort in Canada. A 2016 Cone Communications Study revealed the following:

  • 64% of Millennials weigh a company’s commitment to social and environmental issues when deciding where to work
  • 64% indicated they would turn down a job from a company that doesn’t have strong CSR values
  • 83% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues (vs. 70% U.S.average)
  • 88% indicated that they find their job more fulfilling when given opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues4

Millennials are turning up the pressure on companies to make a genuine commitment to finding more responsible and sustainable ways to conduct business that help protect the planet and support vulnerable populations. If there’s a gap between a company’s words and actions, its efforts will not only be wasted but will likely impact its reputation. Business leaders who fail to recognize the importance of fostering the needs of this sector of the workforce may just be putting their businesses in jeopardy.

Consumers Expect More

Widely publicized CSR boondoggles like Volkswagen’s Dieselgate should serve as a cautionary tale to companies that think they can get away with disguising a money-saving scheme as a green project. Following the scandal, Volkswagen recorded a loss for the first time in 20 years and profits dropped by 20%.5 Clearly the days of using CSR merely as a cheap photo opportunity are long over. With 44% of Canadians opting to speak with their wallets, weighing ecological and societal impacts before making purchases6, it’s clear that the relationship between a company’s CSR strategy and the companies consumers will throw their support behind is growing.

Business Objectives + CSR Projects

There’s nothing to say that your CSR projects have to be entirely without benefit to your business to be effective and genuine. To the contrary, through smart partnerships you can create an effective CSR program that marries your company’s goals, values and mission with projects that promote sustainable development. Don’t think you have to choose between profits and purpose – rather focus on profit with a purpose.


2 Magda B.L. Donia, Carol-Ann Tetrault Sirsly, Sigalit Ronen. Employee Attributions of Corporate Social Responsibility as Substantive or Symbolic: Validation of a Measure. Applied Psychology, 2016.

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