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So—So---So: Socially Responsible Merry Christmas!

Christmas season was less of a frustrating time for me in terms of gift purchases. First and foremost I attribute less anxiety around gift purchases to my focus on celebrating this season based on my faith.

My Christmas shopping anxieties were also decreased due to increased satisfaction that my spending has been relatively well-placed with socially responsible businesses. My personal focus and practice of socially responsible shopping are connected to the fact that one of the five client project service areas of Progress Strategies+ is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

CSR clients and project partners of Progress Strategies+ know of the philosophy, practice and standards. For readers of this blog who may not be familiar CSR is generally known as a corporation’s adherence to ethical and legal standards across all its operations, along with its deliberative and voluntary effects on the environment and positive impact on social welfare.

Those practices include environmentally progressive activities that go beyond what regulators require, and promoting and supporting local, national and global causes. The latter is often achieved through corporate philanthropy where businesses donate some of their profits or resources to charitable causes and efforts to change systemic issues of poverty, education, health and economic challenges.

Corporations who demonstrate social responsible practices are also justifiably focused on its business case objectives. Those objectives for example would be to increase brand recognition and reputation as well as increasing sales among the millions of socially responsible consumers (55% of consumers surveyed across the globe by Nielsen) who:

  • Are likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar pricing between products.

  • Do not just talk about corporate good intentions. According to Nielsen and other similar consumer surveys, socially responsible consumers say they will pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.

  • Are likely to economically boycott companies if they found those companies engaging in irresponsible business practices.

Holiday shopping for 2014 was yet another year where socially responsible standards translated into my shopping experience. If you were with me during shopping time you would witness me often with my head down walking throughout the mall. My head was not down in dread of the shopping experience. Rather, I was looking at my tablet and phone reviewing corporate social responsibility reports and online Counts of Events (alerts and news on the number of company controversies such as discrimination or health or safety fines). I did pretty well not to have stumbled into shoppers, friends, acquaintances or Santa Claus amid my in-the-mall research!

Reviewing information on a company’s sustainability record and their social/community impact literally before arriving at the cash register is important for me. Particularly at this time of year it is critical that I have information and some observable assurances that my spending aligns with businesses practicing social responsibility in order to meet social impact goals.

In addition to using the Progress Strategies+ 11 Clear Commitments to Corporate Citizenship and Social Responsibility project management guidelines, I also refer to GoodGuide (, social responsibility reports and other resources to guide what I will---or will not---purchase from major retailers. I won’t take time to detail each of the twenty-plus elements that I use. Instead, I want to provide a gift to you for next year’s use of some tools and factors that keep me in continuous improvement to be a socially conscious shopper:


In my opinion most of the online resources that rate socially responsible companies often focus solely on green measurements---environmentally friendly objectives. Environmentally sound practices are important to me as well. However, many assessment services of corporations forget or have a low emphasis on social impact objectives such as community relations, diversity and inclusion in management and the workforce, and records on human rights and wage issues.

I have been using GoodGuide ( as one helpful tool. For companies and products within major sales GoodGuide uses great methodology, data and criteria to provide ratings on a product in environment, health and social areas. It also has listings on certifications and seals of approval (i.e. PETA’s Animal Treatment Assessments) for the product you choose.

For almost any product in personal care, food, household items and more GoodGuide can provide you at the click of a button that product's environment, health and social ratings ranging from 0 to 10 (higher the score, the better the product). The GoodGuide ratings can help you make a socially conscious purchasing decision or help you decide on switching to a better socially responsible product. You will get good guidance from GoodGuide.

Corporate involvement in conditions

The last few days of my holiday shopping were fueled by Starbucks Coffee along with good coffee from local businesses. My recyclable cup coffee refills and gift cards have been held by my hand with the “Indivisible” bracelet on my wrist purchased for five dollars at Starbucks a few years ago. That purchase supported its Create Jobs for U.S.A. Program. Starbucks launched the program with the Opportunity Finance Network to create and sustain jobs in communities throughout the country.

The program provides capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). Those CDFIs then provide financing to under-served community businesses in the form of small business loans, community center financing, housing project financing and microfinance. Such loans have helped a Vermont woman open her bookstore business leading to job creation and community revitalization.

This is social change at the macro level. As a socially conscious shopper I’ll take a Grande size hot chocolate priced at a few dollars more (10 cent discount when I bring my recyclable cup!) for companies developing their own investment initiatives to address compelling social conditions.

Where’s my waste go?

I am surrounded by Macy’s gift boxes this time of year---for good reason. Macy's is my main department store of choice. They keep me up-to-date on their goals to reduce paper consumption. Whether purchasing in-store or online it is a positive shopping experience when I know that the contents holding the gifts include recyclable folding gift boxes (100 percent recycled with 35 percent post-consumer waste) and wrapping tissue (100 percent recycled with 40 percent post-consumer waste). That is getting close to being as good as the bags used by Santa himself.

Wages and wages

After years avoiding the world’s second largest clothing retailer I have thawed out and made a few purchases at H&M. I have quite a few H&M gift cards and apparel purchases to celebrate my initial shopping experience. Among the reasons that I have included the company on my list includes their launch of the Fair Living Wage initiative. The initiative is focusing on establishing fair living wages in the textile industry. In the midst of wage inequity combined with instances of economic exploitation by many bad actors worldwide, I also give H&M credit for educating workers in India and Bangladesh about their rights. Another plus for the company is that 50% of their board members are women. Speaking of…..

Inclusion and Equity from top—Who’s the Boss?

Another Progress Strategies+ project area is Diversity and Inclusion. It is a practice that I preach during shopping. Regarding the authentic aspect of inclusion in the form of power sharing it should be an inviting challenge for socially conscious and inclusion focused credit card users to decide between MasterCard and American Express. Why? It would be limiting to support these companies solely because people of color are at the helm, but it is important.

More important is the fact that those companies and their financial service industries are known to craft and cultivate women and people of color in management positions. MasterCard has entrusted Ajay Banga, who is from India, to be president and CEO of MasterCard. Kenneth Chenault of American Express is the third African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Once again, I support businesses in this aspect because they also have systems to recruit and cultivate diverse talent to the top.

Direct cultivation of young leaders in industry

I appreciate corporate support of non-profits working with youth in a wide variety of areas such as health and education. What I have really been impressed by is when good corporate citizenship also comes with investments in youth to become future company talent and not just the next generation of consumers.

Polo by Ralph Lauren is a brand that I share among family (and myself) when it comes to some apparel gifts during this time of year because of what they do in cultivating future leaders in the industry. Actually, I have been supporting the brand since high school. That was when my mother said I could buy all the Polo that I wanted----from the money of my first-ever job! Back then it was about quality, material and style.

In the early years of 2000 purchasing decisions and staying with the brand had been guided by my appreciation of the Polo Fashion School. The school was established to provide highly motivated, gifted students exposure to the world of fashion in the hopes that some will pursue a career in the industry. It added outreach and after-school courses for inner-city teenagers hailing from East Harlem School at Exodus House and Harlem Children’s Zone. Youth from those areas and others have tested their talents that have led to job offers from Polo. One young student, Syreeta Gates, helped design limited edition jackets and other products that led to Ralph Lauren offering her a job after her final presentation.

As with people there is no perfect company or product. These companies and others that I make efforts to support would be the first to tell you that more must be done in improving corporate social responsibility practices. “More must be done” is documented by adherence to measurements, standards of good annual reporting and investigative resources. The “more must be done” element happens when we as consumers and customers establish our own socially responsible shopping criteria or refer to the standards that exist. When we pay attention to such good corporate citizenship with our dollars, we pay resources forward through more companies who engage in social change to fulfill the value that it is indeed profitable for everyone when the right thing is done.

P.S.---For my personal friends reading this: This blog entry doubles as a list of places that you can feel free to shop and buy gifts for me next year. Progress Strategies+ will also introduce some new client profiles next year. In the meantime Happy New Year to you all!

Eric K. Foster is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management consultancy working with non-profits, business, corporations and organizations in the five client areas of Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Writing and Project Management, Community Engagement Strategies, Public Policy and Advocacy, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

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