A strategic approach to CSR is increasingly important to a company’s competitiveness.
It can bring benefits in terms of innovation, cost savings, brand differentiation, and employee and customer engagement. Most importantly, embedding CSR into the corporate strategy can help save brand reputation. Therefore, CSR is a must for every company that aims at maintaining good market share while making good profits.
This was clearly reflected in Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal.
The scandal shows a failure of Volkswagen’s consumer policy and its corporate responsibility policy.
Also, the loss of billions of shareholder value within just one week is an indicator of CSR’s impact in maintaining a good reputation and hence maximizing a company’s profits by sparing it such unnecessary incidents.
Under the title, “How Sustainability Enhances Brand Value and Reputation,” the 5th CSR LEBANON FORUM took place on October 26 and 27 at Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel under the patronage of the Governor of Banque Du Liban H.E. Mr. Riad Salamé.
International, regional and local experts gathered for the two day annual networking event to highlight the importance of CSR in addressing the challenges businesses face today.
The role of CSR in enhancing brand value and reputation was the main topic of the agenda in the event.
This fact was emphasized by Governor Salamé at the opening ceremony by assuring the direct link between what companies can offer to their clients, and their reputation and responsibility towards society.
In fact, interventions made by participants during this year’s Forum showed that companies are becoming increasingly involved in CSR throughout their operations or have CSR constitute an essential commitment on their agenda for the coming years.
The Forum also took place at a time where Lebanon is witnessing a set of challenges due to the waste management dilemma, shedding light on the role of the private sector in being part of the solution through well-defined social and environmental strategies.
The increased CSR awareness revealed by companies and NGOs during this year’s event is an excellent indicator that the on-going, relentless efforts made by CSR LEBANON over the last six years in highlighting the importance of integrating CSR in the DNA of every business are paying off.
CSR LEBANON has been helping businesses help corporations in their CSR journey by crafting customized strategies, supporting implemetation and developing annual reporting and stakeholder engagement plans.
Key speakers at the opening ceremony of the 5th Annual CSR LEBANON FORUM called upon the private sector to adopt Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices to reduce the cost of environmental degradation in Lebanon.
“A more serious approach to CSR would allow Lebanon to strengthen its position on the Environmental Performance Index by reducing the cost of environmental degradation,” said Environment Minister Mohamed Machnouk during the Forum’s opening ceremony.
Machnouk said that Lebanon ranked 91st out of 178 countries on the 2014 Environmental Performance Index and the country needs to exert more efforts in this area.
In an effort to reach positive results in this area, the private sector should create funds dedicated for development and environment, suggested Machnouk. “The private sector can fill the gap left by the government in terms of implementing CSR principles by creating funds tailored for development and environmental projects,” he said.
He added that banks, for instance, may give loans to their clients only if they engage in environmentally friendly projects. “Moreover, investors in the real estate sector can come up with innovative initiatives to make up for the losses resulting from the random urban sprawl,” he said.
Machnouk said that CSR contributes not only to the growth of society but also helps to improve the reputation of businesses.
His comments were echoed by Riad Salamé, Governor of Banque du Liban (BDL), who said CSR is not only beneficial to society as a whole but it also creates a great added value for companies and corporations.
Salamé said that services offered by companies tend to impact their reputation to a great extent. “This was clearly reflected in Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal which affected their reputation despite the great quality of automobiles they offer,” he said.
“The loss of billions of shareholder value by VW within just one week indicates to what extent CSR is essential in maintaining a good reputation,” he added.
Salamé added that the Central Bank has been keen in the past few years to commit to this concept by launching CSR-related initiatives.
In fact, the Central Bank signed an agreement of cooperation with the Ministry of Environment to support the environmental sector, notably eco-friendly projects in the country.
Salamé also mentioned that the Banque Du Liban has given over $600 million in loans for environmental projects, and has allocated around $250 million for companies involved in the knowledge economy sector.
The Central Bank played a very important role in the education sector as it issued circulars aiming at providing students with subsidized loans enabling them to continue their university studies. “We have succeeded so far in giving over $50,000 to students,” he said.
BDL has also focused on the real estate sector by giving stimulus packages valued at over $5 billion.
In his speech, Salamé provided an overview of the Lebanese economy saying that deposits have increased by around 6% in 2015 despite the complicated political situation in the country.
Salamé praised CSR LEBANON for constituting an excellent regional business and social platform for sharing international knowledge and experience about sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
Meanwhile, Saad Azhari, chairman of BLOM Bank, confirmed Salamé’s views by saying that the banking sector has played a great role in maintaining social responsibility principles and not only in funding the public and private sectors.
Azhari said the Bank launched several educational and humanitarian initiatives in the framework of its social responsibility.
One of the initiatives launched by the bank was ‘BLOM Shabeb’ with the objective of guiding Lebanese youth to the best career path they can embark upon to ensure a solid and successful future. “Around 204,000 of the Lebanese youths benefitted from this program,” he said.
He added that BLOM Bank has also embraced a new endeavor in CSR activities, the ProtectED program.
ProtectED offers kids 12 hours yearly of preventative, proactive, and innovative safety education; thus teaching them valuable and necessary life lessons enabling them to make safer and healthier choices in today’s changing world.
From his side, Alain Bejjani, chief executive officer at Majid Al Futtaim Holding, said that companies engaging in CSR should not wait for a return on their activities in this field because such contributions add a great value to the society.
“Also, companies that are active in CSR are capable of maximizing their profits more than others and such a model should be duplicated by all institutions,” he added.
For his part, Khaled Kassar, CEO and founder of CSR LEBANON, said his company is a social entity that aims to spread knowledge about the importance of CSR, while the annual Forum is a CSR platform for Arab countries.
“Our company also aims at providing banks, Lebanese and Arab companies with consultancies and studies in the aim of preparing CSR strategies and yearly reports, and this is at the core of our work as a Lebanese company active in Lebanon and in the UAE,” he said.
Kassar also gave an overview about the initiatives launched by CSR LEBANON over the past years including the publishing of “Responsible Business Quarterly Review,” the only magazine in the Middle East that specializes in CSR.
“We have also established the foundation of the U.N. Global Compact in Lebanon,” he said.
The opening session was followed by the inauguration of the 5th CSR LEBANON FORUM exhibition which hosts a number of organizations and NGOs from various fields to showcase their ideas, experiences, milestones and plans.
In parallel with the exhibition’s inauguration, the first session of the Forum kicked off by shedding light on the European CSR experience; a leading sustainability model. The session featured speeches by Mikael Staaf, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of Sweden to Syria and Lebanon; Kristin Pålsson, deputy director of the International Trade Policy Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden; Filippo Addarii, director at the Young Foundation and co-founder of PlusValue; Michael Janinhoff, head at GIZ Responsible and Inclusive Business Hub MENA and Filippo Bettini, head of Sustainability and Risk Governance Group at Pirelli in Italy.
The second session unveiled expert contributions and viewpoints on why and how corporations should mainstream CSR strategies and build meaningful brand policies to leverage brand value, influence, identification, loyalty and differentiation, and mitigate reputational risks.
Entitled “CSR & Brand Reputation: From Marketing to Mattering,” this session featured contributions by Dwayne Baraka, founder and CEO of Value CSR in the UK; David Grayson, professor of corporate responsibility and director at the Doughty Center for Corporate Responsibility in the UK; Joseph Martin, director of Clean Energy and Sustainability Services at Ernst & Young in Kuwait; Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, head of sustainability at Majid Al Futtaim Properties in UAE; Manal Moussallem, UNDP representative at the Ministry of Environment in Lebanon; Isabelle Naoum, head of communications at BLOM Bank in Lebanon and Klaus German Phinder, CEO at ACCSE in Mexico.
The third session of the conference highlighted the significance of CSR reporting in maintaining accountability, impact assessment in enhancing stakeholders’ experiences from CSR, social media, and community engagement in strengthening stakeholders’ connection to the brand and their perception of its mission and values.
Under the title “CSR Reporting & Communications: From Disclosure to Social Media,” the session was also moderated by Dwayne Baraka, and featured interventions by Yasmine Barbir, general business manager at Nestlé - Lebanon; Dr. Joel Carboni, founder and president at Green Project Management Global - New York; Andrea Paniagua, trade and investment officer at ProMexico and CSR Expert and Patrick Attallah, founder and CEO of Social4ce in Lebanon.
Two parallel seminars took place on the first day covering consumer protection in the financial sector and sustainability in the food industry.
The consumer protection session provided an overview of circular 134 issued by Banque Du Liban while discussing banks’ readiness to align their operations with the circular requirements and how they would adapt to them.
The food industry session focused mainly on challenges, emerging risks, existing standards and regulations, stakeholders’ perceptions and directions of CSR in the food sector increasingly becoming a priority for managers in the global retail and consumer goods sector.
Professional training courses on CSR Strategies and Reporting and Sustainability in Project Management took place on the second day of the forum.
CSR LEBANON has been working relentlessly throughout the past six years on adjusting misconceptions about CSR through awareness raising programs including the forum, training workshops, and the Responsible Business Quarterly Review.
“We have been able to make a difference in the private sector and more corporations are on track now to strategize CSR. However, this remains an endless journey that requires serious commitment starting from the top,” said Kassar.