My project team is crafting a global water strategy for a big brand that prides itself on being a values-based company. The values run deep! I hear them every time I talk to an employee—and we have now interviewed more than 20 people from Bangalore to New Mexico to Johannesburg. This is truly a company that wants to do the right thing.

Great news, right? Not when it comes to maximizing business value from CSR efforts.

For this company, CSR is a duty. Being a good corporate citizen means taking care of factory workers, cleaning up wastewater, and joining industry groups to improve agricultural practices for its raw materials. Our client deserves a lot of credit for being a first mover in all these areas, for walking the talk and finding ways to put its values into practice. Consumers do rate the brand highly on CSR, but they haven’t been willing to pay a premium for eco-labeled product.

Perhaps this is why the company sees its morals as separate from its mass marketing. Doing the duty of CSR, and doing it well, is a point of pride, but is not thought of as potential for profit. Instead, our clients in the “environment, health, and safety” department are given the job of upholding the company’s values with little connection to business value. That’s right, all those values-driven employees in the marketing, operations, purchasing, and design departments rarely if ever lead CSR efforts. Instead the company delegates its duty to one group and its business to everyone else.

In the context of a global water strategy, this has meant that the focus is cutting costs, not increasing revenues. The kicker is that this company has seen its revenues fall hard just as consumers are demanding more and more on the CSR front.

Communicating water efforts to customers is a great opportunity to boost the brand and take a step away from the competition. Will our recommendations to do just that become victims of the values divide? Or will our clients’ claim that communication about CSR is around the corner ring true?

—David