Thought Leadership

Design and branding tackles the modern CSR agenda

Gavin Mackie

Creative Director


Branding and design are a crucial part of the mix to take the CSR agenda from hippy-bantering and nice-to-have to an important and indispensable part of doing business.

Gavin Mackie, N1 Creative

Contemporary corporate culture

The world is changing. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now an essential part of contemporary corporate culture. We must make a constant effort to tackle issues like climate change and sustainability. If the targets proposed for the upcoming COP15 are implemented and achieved, this will give a 2°C rise in global temperatures which will still result in dramatic climatic effects.

Anything over 2°C will become difficult for current societies to deal with. Even in tougher financial times, there is no room to ignore the responsible action needed to tackle the interlinking issues of climate change, sustainability and ethical business practices.

Branding and design are a crucial part of the mix to take the CSR agenda from hippy-bantering and nice-to-have to an important and indispensable part of doing business. For organisations with existing CSR agendas, and those without, buying into and communicating the benefits of responsible business practices can be a challenge, where traditionally corporate culture’s sole concern has been financial profit. There are three key areas where the right brand and design can have impact:

1. Setting the agenda: brand values, vision and strategy

For a CSR agenda to be successful, for both its internal buy-in and in its external communication, it must align to a brand’s values and vision. The value gained from ensuring corporate brand values and vision take into account and promote responsible business practices will go a long way in the success of a CSR programme.

This is also important when creating a cause-related marketing (CRM) programme; partnering a brand with causes and charities that speak of brand values promote CRM as both genuine and sincere. This means that taking the time to invest in the brand work before setting out a CSR (and CRM) agenda will reap benefits in its delivery.

2. Achieving buy-in: internal communications

The success of a CSR programme lies in the ability to affect behavioral change across an organisation, communicating the actions to be taken and the vision of the programme positively at all levels. From owners, the board and senior management to staff, the achievement of any CSR comes from the buy-in needed to make change. Design plays an active role, from pinpointing the correct channels to what is communicated.

This means corporate documents such as annual CSR reports need to sell future vision as well as reporting on the past year’s activities. It also means that staff need clear communication on the benefits of the programme, reinforced at the point of activity. Two-way channels allowing staff to communicate both upward and with each other allows ownership of the programme and can lead to new CSR innovations. A proactive and dynamic internal communications plan that is well designed can achieve this.

3. Celebrating success: communicating with customers

Customers are increasingly demanding to know the environmental and ethical impact of their consumer decisions. This is not limited to the final purchase point, but extends throughout the supply chain. An organisation’s ability to externally communicate its CSR agenda and data effectively is growing in importance.

While this communication is essential, organisations must get the balance right to avoid accusations of greenwashing. A well-executed external communications programme will help gain organisations the recognition they need.

Brand and design agencies also have a responsibility and bring additional benefit to organisations’ CSR programmes by ensuring that any branding and communications programme is in itself responsibly delivered.

This means looking at environmentally and ethically friendly ways of communicating. Design goes a far way in increasing communication effectiveness; good design should not cost the earth, quite literally.

Gavin Mackie, Creative Director - N1 Creative


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Guest Author

Gavin Mackie

Creative Director, N1 Creative


Gavin is Creative Director at N1 Creative.