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Improving Corporate Citizenship

Wednesday, July 17, 2002 at 5:26 PM

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The trusted image of Corporate America has suffered a black eye - companies that include Enron, Worldcom and Adelphia are accused of lying to inflate their profits. The problem has driven the stock market down and created nervousness about the economic future. Some experts say the current climate makes it essential for businesses to improve their image. One way to do that is to get involved with their communities. 90.3 WCPN's Mike West has more.

Mike West: Here at the Great Lakes Brewery on Cleveland’s west side, bottles and kegs are being filled by a worker. The cool damp air smells of hops inside the old brick building. The beer will eventually wind up on stores shelves and at the company’s restaurant just down the street. For Great Lakes, business is booming and the company has become a symbol of corporate responsibility and environmental goodwill. The owners support causes that include: park and trail construction around the city, natural foods and recycling. Their stance on the environment keeps bottles popping and their eatery packed with customers. Patrick Conway is the co-owner and founder.

Patrick Conway: I think to wrap ourselves around a lot of green activity dove-tails with our audience who, and this is not a snobbery, this is just a reality. Our consumers are more well read, more well traveled they think about their lifestyle. They think about what they eat and drink, and so our fresh all natural products are a perfect complement to that lifestyle.

MW: Great Lakes uses their spent brewing grains for bread-making, instead of throwing them away. They also mix expired beer with shredded office paper. Worms eat the mixture transforming it into natural fertilizer. Conway says their policies have translated into loyal customers who want to spend their money on people who share their values. But he warns others who would copy the formula, that you can’t fake your intensions for a quick buck.

PC: It has to be felt in the fervor and the depths of souls of the principals and then it has to be a shared vision all the way down, because we’ve run into problems in the past where we had some personnel who didn’t share our vision and there were some uncomfortable moments because they didn’t feel the value of what we were trying to do. And so it has to be shared vision - absolutely.

MW: Good corporate citizenship just seems like common sense. But apparently it is not. Jean Kilgore makes a living teaching business leaders the how and why’s of giving time, money and services to the community. She says traditional philanthropy is changing, and companies want - and need to know - how to fit “good works” into their corporate culture.

Jean Kilgore: I think there is a pretty strong sense of community responsibility and it’s fairly rare to find a company that isn’t involved in some respects. However, for the companies that don’t give their own money. I don’t think there is a lack of awareness of the importance of philanthropy in Cleveland. What’s interesting though is that you’ll find that different kinds of companies have a different take on what community involvement means.

MW: For example, Kilgore says younger business leaders want to get involved in ways that larger older companies have traditionally stayed away from, things like working with universities to teach new skills for tomorrow’s jobs, or helping upstarts in an effort to build a stronger local economy.

JK: Some of the more high tech companies, for example, if you ask them what their involvement is they are not going to talk about philanthropy. They may be talking about what they’re doing to build their industry. To help other C.E.O.’s or entrepreneurs get started or to help with higher education building employee bases.

MW: Educating business leaders on exactly how to make the most of corporate giving is another specialty. Highland Heights-based Brown-Flynn Communications teaches company mangers how to target their philanthropic efforts to causes related to their business. For example a major hardware chain supports Habitat For Humanity, where charity work centers around using the products they sell. It may sound obvious, but Brown-Flynn Co-owner Margie Flynn says other parts of the country “are way ahead” of on this concept.

Margie Flynn: In northeast Ohio there’s fewer examples I will say than on the east coast and west coast. Our goal is to help them understand that there is real value in looking strategically at how they can be ecologically friendly, they can be committed to the community in the way of being committed to education and health care, whatever most closely aligns with their business goals and objectives.

MW: Flynn predicts a company’s position in the community and their stand on social and environmental issues is only becoming more important. She says the war on terrorism and the accounting tricks of some executives has people thinking deeply about making the world a better place. And that she says is translating into customers who are more selective about who they do business with.

MF: If you look at some of the statistics in light of September 11th, there’s a heightened sensitivity in the world today about what can we be doing we’ve had companies call us and say “we just feel in the light of September 11th we personally feel we need to be doing something more but how do we do it.”

MW: The experts say it is vital for small and medium-size businesses to step-up to the philanthropy plate. The loss of British Petroleum (BP), LTV Steel and soon TRW has meant big chunks of goodwill are gone. If others don’t pick up the slack, northeast Ohio will lose its reputation as one of the most generous cities in the county and a lot more. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3 WCPN News.

Additional Information

Brown Flynn Communications

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