Corporate social responsibility, a leading 21st century business buzz phrase, is difficult to define, since each company that claims to be socially responsible chooses a different way to demonstrate its commitment.
And while business journals contains dozens of involved definitions, the few words of Will Aiello, the general manager of Costa Rica’s Horizontes Nature Tours, reach the core of the concept:
“I think it means doing things well, to do well.”
The practice of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, has shouldered its way into the consciousness of national businesses over the last 10-15 years. As Aiello says, CSR is a company’s way of doing well – not in terms of profits or the efficiency of its day-to-day operations – but by committing itself to an activity or cause that contributes to the greater good. Be it recycling, helping to rebuild homes destroyed in an earthquake, providing soccer uniforms to impoverished schools or cleaning up beach trash, a socially responsible company is one that aims to improve something beyond its core function, in a way that’s relevant to the entire society.
Lynda Solar, executive director of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), who 14 years ago developed an annual awards program for AMCHAM companies demonstrating corporate social responsibility, said her motivation for doing so was to “recognize companies that were doing projects in local communities and to encourage more companies to get involved.”
“While some companies have bigger budgets, we do not set out to award or recognize companies that just make financial donations for a tax write-off. We want to award the companies that are really committing themselves to improve the environment, the country and the communities around them. You can’t have healthy companies in struggling communities,” Solar added.
Following are program profiles of a number of Costa Rican companies that help demonstrate the ways that they are contributing to the greater good, beyond their bottom lines. While many companies that are doing valuable work aren’t included, those below are often mentioned as being leading examples of what corporate responsibility is all about.
El Ángel Cariblanco,
The actions of the small food products company El Ángel after the Jan. 8, 2009 magnitude 6.2 earthquake that rocked the hillsides of the Poás Volcano are among the best known demonstrations of corporate responsibility in the country.
Located near the tremor’s epicenter, El Ángel’s plant was completely destroyed. After the quake, many of its 300 employees were left without employment, homes, food or money, and with nowhere to turn.
But amid the chaos, which resulted in 23 dead in towns including nearby Chinchona, El Ángel committed to continue paying the salaries of its employees, while also offering food and shelter to those whose homes were destroyed.
By the end of April 2009, El Ángel opened a new location in Cariblanco, near its original site.
“Our employees are what make our company and their well-being is always the top concern of the company,” said Ana Lía García, president of Grupo Ángel since 1977. “The employees we have are wonderful, and after the earthquake … if anyone needed shelter, or help, or finances, everyone supported each other. By the time the new plant was ready, thankfully everyone had maintained their jobs.”
El Ángel’s sense of corporate responsibility is exhibited primarily within the walls of the operation. While they do assist in local projects, most of the focus is on cultivating a fluid, pleasant and proud internal work environment.
“Social responsibility is a simple concept,” García said. “We are all human beings living and working together. Treating each other with respect and integrity should come before everything else.”
Florida Ice & Farm (FIFCO)
Best known for quenching Costa Rica’s thirst through its beers Imperial and Pilsen, Tropical brand fruit juices and Agua Cristal bottled water, Florida Ice & Farm (FIFCO) is also becoming well known for its corporate social responsibility program.
Since implementing its Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profit) program in 2008, FIFCO has committed itself to a number of social and environmental projects that have captured the nation’s attention.
Within the walls of the plant, FIFCO is aiming to be the nation’s first “water neutral” company by reusing water and limiting consumption. The plant also aims to recycle all of its solids and limit uses of plastic and aluminium.
Outside of the plant, during the first half of the year, about 300 FIFCO employees helped construct an aqueduct for the indigenous community of Gavilán Canta in Talamanca, in Costa Rica’s Caribbean province of Limón. Prior to the arrival of the aqueduct, the members of the community had to walk two kilometers to obtain clean drinking water for the 500 residents.
FIFCO employees are required to commit work days during the year to volunteer efforts. In addition to the aqueduct project, employees worked alongside Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes and construct new ones after the 2009 Chinchona earthquake. FIFCO also provided bottled water and drinks to the area’s residents after the disaster.
“Our employees couldn’t be happier,” said Gisela Sánchez, corporate relations director at FIFCO. “The truth is that they are content because it is not the company doing great things, it is the employees doing great things. They spend their days helping people who need it, and that provides them with a sensation of satisfaction different from any that you can get from simply working within the walls of the business.”
Grupo Purdy Motor
Paseo Colón, San José
Walking into the Purdy Motors-Toyota showroom in Paseo Colón, west of downtown San José, it’s immediately apparent the company has hopped on the social and environmental responsibility bus. With small recycling bins lining the walls that encourage you to “limit your footprint” and a stand near the counter displaying an award the company’s received for being a “Great Place to Work,” the corporate message of Purdy Motors clearly goes beyond selling automobiles.
Since its founding by the Quiros family in 1957, Grupo Purdy says it has worked for a better Costa Rica. According to Luis Mastroeni, the communications and CSR manager, Mrs. Quiros was one of the first sponsors of the (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) D.A.R.E. program in Costa Rica.
Purdy Motors also works with public schools on driver’s education and promotes responsible driving programs.
In addition to social efforts, Purdy emphasizes limiting its environmental impact.
“We are a company that sells vehicles,” Mastroeni said. “We know that comes with an environmental impact, so we focus on all the ways we can be responsible and limit that impact.”
Purdy operates recycling programs to reuse tires, batteries and car parts, while also finding ways to reuse burned motor oil. According to Mastroeni, Purdy reuses approximately 108,000 liters of burned oil each year.
The company also owns and oversees 1,000 hectares of forest land in Colorado de Abangares in Guanacaste, the northwest Costa Rica province. Purdy has worked to conserve and reforest the area, which was in danger of being developed.
“Governments don’t have the funds or the planning capabilities to monitor all the problems we are creating as a society,” Mastroeni said. “So, the responsibility … falls on private companies. Some companies, such as ours, decided to react to this. We had to consider that if we want to continue to be a responsible business in the long term, the best way to do it is to avoid thinking that we are the only company in the world. If we want to continue to live calmly and peacefully, we must contribute to local communities and national society as much as we can.”
Horizontes Nature Tours
Paseo Colón, San José
While many local tourism agencies are committed to social and environmental responsibility, Horizontes Nature Tours has earned a reputation as one of the chief examples of what it means to give back.
The Horizontes CSR efforts are simple. A few years ago, the staff at the west San José office decided to organize a group recycling plan. Every Thursday morning, company employees put on smocks and gloves to sort trash into appropriate piles. What started as an internal company effort has since expanded to include other sites around the neighborhood, such as the Brazilian Embassy and nearby schools.
Horizontes, which plans and organizes tours and vacations, also strives to lighten its tourism footprint by meticulously planning trips for visitors to limit energy use, carbon emissions, water and waste.
“We are a Costa Rican company that decided years ago to show tourists the riches of the country,” said Wilfrid Aiello, general manager of Horizontes. “To us, that means both nature and our people. We design a way for tourists to experience both of these while leaving as little environmental impact as possible.”
The company is also committed to education in the west San José area. Employees visit neighborhood schools to teach lessons to encourage recycling and awareness of the importance of the natural environment.
Within the office, the company’s social and environmental efforts directed to the community have built pride within the workplace, say the company directors. According to Aiello, the 30 or so Horizontes employees function as a family, and each shares a dedication to their social and environmental work.
“There is a mixture of feelings when our employees are involved in the projects that we do,” Aiello said. “I think initially, these are viewed as a mandatory task. But, after working with children or spending the morning recycling, they feel good afterwards. Once they have that feeling, they understand why we do the things we do.”
San José and Central Valley
Importadora Monge, one of Costa Rica’s largest chains of home appliance, electronics, and furniture stores, has developed the Mundo Verde (Green World) program to promote environmental education in communities and schools, promote and facilitate recycling in the Central Valley and work with communities to “recover traditional values.”
The company’s employee-driven program to recover traditional Costa Rican values is unique in the realm of national social responsibility programs. Employees visit area public schools and promote recreational games of the past, such as jumping rope, bag races, stick horse races, and stilt races.
“We do so to teach the children about the traditional values that used to exist in Costa Rica,” said Rocío Mena, brand manager for Importadora Monge.
When asked why CSR seems to be on the rise in Costa Rica, Mena said:
“When more importance is given to participation in society, it generates a feeling within individuals that they are part of something bigger, and that their participation is integral to improve society. Companies are not exempted from this, and their involvement can be used to benefit others.”
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, the nation’s largest public bank, is a source of developmental funds across all sectors of the Costa Rican economy. But in addition to providing financing, Banco Nacional has also established projects to enhance the natural environment and strengthen communities.
On the environmental side, Banco Nacional has established recycling and pick-up stations at their agencies throughout the country, developed activities to reduce environmental impacts such as river and beach cleanups and conservation programs, and has also implemented an initiative to reduce the use of paper, ink and toner cartridges, electricity and water in its operations.
In the area of community development, Banco Nacional sends representatives to schools to educate youth about banking and finances. One project groups high school students into small mock businesses and teaches them how to market their products online. Other educational projects are used to teach students how to acclimate themselves to online banking and setting up payment and purchase systems online.
“Corporate social responsibility at Banco Nacional exists because we believe in implementing practices to improve the nature of our operations and reputation. While our primary function is to provide reliable financial services to clients, it is equally important to promote local economic development, ethical work principles, innovation, education and reduce environmental impact,” the Bank said in a statement.n
In the Oct. 22 edition: corporate social responsibility and multinational companies.