Everyone is trying to figure out what to do about the current problems with our economy. From the Presidential candidates to economists to Main St USA – they’re all asking, what do we do?

While I won’t pretend to understand exactly what is going on with the economy, I do understand that people have lost faith in the system and in corporate America. I hear that they are disappointed that the values they treasure in people and in our country have been betrayed. To understand how we got into this mess, we can look to the guiding principles of social responsibility (SR) to see what went wrong.

Social responsibility is about doing what’s right, even when it doesn’t seem profitable or popular. It’s an invitation to be a part of the solution, rather than a contributor to the problem. In terms of business strategy, it could be said that social responsibility is an equal focus on the people bottom line, the planet bottom line and the profit bottom line. This is what I call Bottom Line ³ - a strategic planning system that helps us to understand the different faces of social responsibility.

If we look at Bear Stearns, Lehman or AIG, we’d likely find a concentration of effort focused on the highest possible dollar profits. Don’t get me wrong, dollar profits are a good thing. Obviously profits drive growth, opportunity and prosperity for most of us, not to mention that a majority of the philanthropy in this country happens as a result of strong profits. But when the dollar becomes the God we worship, without equal consideration for all stakeholders - employees, customers, even suppliers – serious cracks appear in the foundation.

Concentration on the short term led corporate executives and even ordinary Americans to lose sight of the long term. As individuals, we got caught up in the trap of immediate gratification. We expected high rates of return and turned our head to avoid seeing how those returns were being generated. We wanted a new house, a bigger house and we wanted it now – never mind our marginal ability to support that lifestyle.

The government and big business began borrowing against our future, thinking that they could elude the inevitable. Yet, as we all know, sooner or later, we have to pay the piper. Our disregard of the long term impact of our actions has created problems with the environment and our vision of retirement. But, when we honestly focus on the long term, it forces us to make meaningful deposits for the future in ways that are sustainable, economically and environmentally.

The marketing spin from government officials, politicians and corporate executives has lulled us to sleep. And without a satisfactory degree of transparency, it has become increasingly difficult to understand the real story or who to trust. From product recalls due to tainted manufacturing ingredients and processes to misinformation about the safety of the foods we eat, trust, or lack of trust has become the central issue facing us today. Now is the time to prioritize trust!

The way to prioritize trust is to prioritize social responsibility. Annual CSR reports, community involvement, loyal employees and customers, support of relevant and important causes, authentic marketing, and transparent sales tactics are the evidence we need to help us regain trust. As companies commit to socially responsible strategies and then act, people will find a way to believe in them again.

Using a tool such as Bottom Line³ to help build socially responsible strategies provides a foundation and a guide to implementing the different faces of SR. Each company and governmental entity must internalize their commitment to integrity, because for each organization it will look slightly different. So, if you are wondering what to do – put purpose and passion into doing what’s right for everyone. It’s the golden rule that many of us learned as children and that is echoed throughout all major faith traditions around the world.
Of course it’s acceptable to make money; we just can’t sell out hope, faith and trust in the process. There is a greater good that we are called to support. And when we universally commit to that greater good, magic happens. And, then the commitment must be backed up by action. When I did a google search for “commitment to social responsibility”, there were 2.8 million results. That’s when I realized the solution isn’t about commitment – it goes beyond that to how we act socially responsible.

Here are a few action steps that you can take today to prioritize social responsibility:
• Do research – make sure that you know about the actions of the companies you choose to support. What are their hiring practices; what is their environmental record; are they investing in their communities? Force them to become transparent.
• Know what you stand for. Some feel that animal rights are important; others believe that poverty is the most important issue, while still others believe that our environment is the most critical issue. Whatever you believe, you must support.
• Be socially responsible – think about how you spend your time and money. Are you spending them on things that are important, are needed, and that serve the greater good of our society? Schedule your priorities and do what’s right.
• Support the companies, organizations or politicians that are socially responsible, or that help the causes that you feel must be addressed. Encourage others by becoming an activist- write letters, blogs or articles about your opinions. There are no doubt thousands of others who will join you in your quest.

Yes, I believe that Social Responsibility is the answer to what ails America today. And I also believe that we can rebuild the injured trust by becoming social activists – whatever that looks like to you. Start today – ask questions, get involved, do what’s right and we will all reap the benefits!

Author's Bio: 

Ann Ranson is an executive coach and Social Responsibility expert who is dedicated to making Social Responsibility easy and profitable. She helps organizations create and leverage socially responsible strategies to build high-trust relationships in the market, something she calls communities with a cause. Find out more about her work at www.annranson.com or email her at ann@annranson.com.