What may, in the past, have been considered optional – even a passing fad – corporate social responsibility in today’s business world is more important than ever. Not only does it provide an opportunity for businesses to grow and strengthen while also contributing to society in an impactful way, it’s also enormously important to the generations entering the workforce. Employees want to join companies they feel are making a difference – companies that they can fully buy into and represent proudly.

However, while corporate social responsibility sounds good in theory, it’s not always easy to do well. Companies that make big promises but don’t follow through will seem fraudulent, and those that aren’t in it for the right reasons will be easy to distinguish. But for organizations that view social responsibility as a vital piece of their puzzle, it can be key in addressing issues, attracting talent, and remaining productive.

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?

A somewhat broad term, corporate social responsibility refers to a company’s efforts to improve society in some way. Whether it’s donating money to nonprofits, organizing volunteer opportunities, or implementing policies that promote environmental sustainability, the efforts are designed to make the world a better place to live and work.

Industry leaders across the country have developed impressive corporate social responsibility strategies that are making an impact. Starbucks, for example, launched a social responsibility strategy centered on community, ethical sourcing, and the environment as a part of CEO Howard Schultz’s “Transformative Agenda.” The company has pledged to hire 25,000 military veterans by 2025 and 10,000 refugees by 2022. It only partners with farmers and suppliers that follow certain ethical standards, and it plans to double the recycled content, compostability, and reusability of its cups and packaging by 2022.

Known for its reliable batteries, Duracell launched a program called PowerForward that’s designed to aid areas hit by hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. Beyond distributing approximately half a million free batteries to families facing outages, the company also provides free internet access and charging stations so that families can connect with loved ones. In the event of a disaster, the PowerForward trucks are strategically placed throughout the United States so that they can reach any destination within 24 hours.

Lego, every child’s favorite plastic toy block, has put an initiative in place to improve the world we live in. Through the Sustainable Materials Center, Lego partnered with creative partners like the World Wildlife Fund and hired employees focused on improving the brand’s carbon footprint. The ultimate goal is to make all Lego bricks from fully sustainable materials by 2030.

Disney, among other initiatives that focus on international labor standards and environmental stewardship, developed an employee volunteer program known as VoluntEARS. Through this, cast members and their families can turn their hours of volunteer service into a financial contribution to a nonprofit of their choice. This allows them to contribute to projects that are personal and meaningful to them.


Why Now?

Corporate social responsibility has made the shift from optional to expected in recent years for reasons ranging from political concerns to corporate distrust and competition. Employees and consumers alike want to support companies that care about social issues.

It’s also gaining traction because it represents an almost unheard of “win-win” for all involved. For businesses, it can improve a company’s public image, boost employee engagement, increase media exposure and brand awareness, and even attract and retain investors. On the employee side, it presents a positive workplace environment and increase in creativity; not to mention, it promotes individual philanthropy and encourages professional and personal growth. And for the organizations and nonprofits the social responsibility is set out to help, it brings financial growth and volunteer hours.


Home Is Where the Heart Is

Locally, companies across various industries have fully embraced the importance of corporate social responsibility and are working toward the betterment of the world each day. While too many to feature in one article, what follows are six organizations that have made social responsibility a part of their corporate culture and business philosophy.

Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough

For accounting firm Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough, the concept of corporate responsibility begins before an employee is even hired. “When someone is interviewing with our firm, or if we’re recruiting on college campuses, it’s a topic we talk about openly so they know what to expect if they join our firm,” says Managing Partner Donnie Hutcherson.

The company expects employees to get involved with community organizations that mean the most to them. “We want them to plug into organizations where they have a true passion and can support causes that are important to them,” Hutcherson explains. And to facilitate, the company has one person helping to make these connections. “She coordinates between our staff and area nonprofits to assist our employees in finding boards and committees where they can dedicate their time.”

Hutcherson sees the firm’s dedication to social responsibility as an investment in the community that benefits all parties. “We give back, both financially and through volunteer hours, to organizations where an employee or client is actively involved, or if the nonprofit is a client of our firm,” he explains. “It has helped our firm grow in our community for many decades, and it will continue to help us grow. The next generation is looking for meaningful workplaces.”

(First) Employees recently participated in a community service outing at the Salvation Army;

(Second) Team members gather the toys that were collected at a toy drive and prepare them for delivery.




For Matt Hullander, owner of Hullco, the company’s dedication to corporate social responsibility comes from the idea that what goes around, comes around. “Our mission statement is to make it better for our coworkers, our customers, and our community,” he explains. “We didn’t really have a focus several years ago; we just knew we wanted to give back and help.” At that time, Hullander launched Hullco Heritage, a foundation he says gave them more focus.

Last year, the Hullco Heritage Foundation gave back to six local charities in addition to sponsoring community events. “These events give our employees an opportunity to give back and help,” says Hullander. And when it comes to selecting the organizations they dedicate time and funds to, he explains, “Most of them mean something to my family or to our employees. For example, we sponsor the Jason Foundation, which raises awareness for teenage suicide, because we have a teenage daughter and many of our employees have children.”

When it comes to why companies have a responsibility to give back and dedicate themselves to making a difference,
Hullander admits, “You have a responsibility to help others. I feel like a company is no different than an individual; it just gives us a larger platform to help more people.”

First) Matt Hullander and University of Tennessee, Knoxville Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer speak at a fundraising event.

(Second) A team of four celebrates a successful turn at the 7th annual Hullco Heritage Golf Tournament, which benefited six different charities and raised over $70,000.



Ruby Falls

When it comes to corporate social responsibility for Ruby Falls, President Hugh Morrow explains their focus is reflected in their core values: being good stewards of the earth and providing inspiring opportunities that are accessible and empowering. “Our vision strategically centers on the dual-focus of healthy living and education: two major components necessary for thriving communities,” he says.

In order to help propel this vision, Ruby Falls established a new leadership position in 2017 to guide the strategy, and it’s also taking into account the ideas and opinions of the entire 130-member team. “Our team represents diverse age groups and backgrounds, and many are involved in educational and community organizations and area nonprofits,” Morrow explains. “Their philanthropic partnership recommendations give us valuable insight into life-changing initiatives that align with our social responsibility focus.”

Dedicated to acting ethically, protecting the environment, and investing in communities, Morrow sees the Ruby Falls strategy as an example of what’s to come. “Corporate social responsibility is quickly becoming a critical part of long-term business growth in every industry. It won’t be long before more companies transition to an intentional CSR model that fully integrates social responsibility within their core values and expected business outcomes, making it central to operations and their bottom line. Employees and consumers will play a significant role in embedding social responsibility into the way companies operate.”

(First) Students from The Howard School participated in the 6th annual Environmental Summit sponsored by Coca-Cola, Ruby Falls, and Rock City. The Summit was led by students and uses Lookout Mountain as a classroom to teach critical leadership and academic, social, and conservation skills.

(Second) Ruby Falls partners with the American Heart Association (AHA) for the annual 100 Million Steps in March, challenging guests and Ruby Falls team members to collectively walk 100 million steps during the month of March at the iconic destination. The event increases awareness for women’s heart health while providing a fun way to be active.



BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

The BlueCross BlueShield corporate social responsibility strategy is multipronged and extensive. In addition to emphasizing programs based on diversity and inclusion, providing volunteer opportunities for employees, and promoting education with paid internships for area high school students, the company launched a signature cause in 2018 called the BlueCross Healthy Place program.

Through this program, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation has committed to redesigning underinvested public spaces across the state in an effort to transform neighborhoods. Earlier this year, the company announced a $5 million investment earmarked for Highland Park. “We got a lot of input from neighbors, homeowners associations, and more,” says Scott Pierce, chief operating officer for the Chattanooga-based health insurer. “We hope this park, which will combine play areas for children and fitness equipment and walking tracks for all citizens, is a catalyst for changing and improving the neighborhood in a positive way.” The company has made similar commitments in other cities across the state, including Memphis, Kingsport, and Huntland.

The hardest part about creating such a comprehensive plan for social responsibility, Pierce explains, is actually following through. “The challenge when it comes to corporate social responsibility – it’s an endurance test. You can’t just talk about it; you have to be committed to it. It’s hard to build a reputation but very easy to lose it.”



Each year, BlueCross hosts quarterly cultural awareness sessions on a variety of topics including black history month, LGBTQ awareness, and more. Employee Robert Thomas shared how his grandparents moved from Alabama to Michigan as part of the Great Migration.



First Tennessee

In addition to the First Tennessee Foundation, which invests in building strong communities through advancing arts and culture, education and leadership, environmental stewardship, financial literacy, and health and human services, First Tennessee recently doubled down on its efforts to provide for communities in need. “Last year, our parent company First Horizon announced a five-year $3.95 billion community benefit plan to increase financial resources within the low-to-moderate income and underserved communities,” explains Jay Dale, market president for Chattanooga.

First Tennessee also celebrates its major milestones by giving back to the community. The First Horizon Foundation marked their 25th anniversary by providing $275,000 in grant funding for nonprofits through a video contest. Local award winners included the Chattanooga Zoo, which made an MTV Cribs-style video featuring their cranes (Niles and Frasier), the Humane Educational Society, and La Paz.

When it comes to the future of corporate social responsibility as a whole, Dale says it will be important in attracting quality talent. “We believe that companies who have a strong track record of being able to meet the needs of an ever-changing community will be attractive to future team members. We also believe that as leaders emerge within companies, the commitment to corporate social responsibility will only increase. As a banker, you could say that’s a strong return on any company’s investment, and you know what? You’d be right.”

Chattanooga Market President Jay Dale presents $1,000 Odyssey Universe Scholarship to 2019 Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy valedictorian Yhara Mendoza.



Rock City

At Rock City, not only is the organization focused on preserving the natural and historic attractions, corporate social responsibility propels each and every event hosted throughout the year. “At Rock City Gardens, we have identified community partners for each special event on our calendar throughout the year, which allows us to feature those organizations and work with them through co-advocacy,” explains President and Chief Operating Officer Susan Harris. For example, Shamrock City, a celebration each March, partners with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, EarthDayz partners with Orange Grove, and Rocktoberfest pairs with the MaryEllen Locher Scholarship Foundation.

One of the reasons Rock City is strategically focused on corporate social responsibility is due to their employees, who are known as partners. “As a mission-driven organization, caring for our people – our guests and partners – means that we care about how we interact as a company,” says Harris. “It makes a difference to our partners, and they appreciate that we are able to recognize the connectedness we have with others.”

Rock City also practices social responsibility by pairing with local artisans who create pieces for the Enchanted Trail. These pieces are inspired by the natural beauty of the attractions and are created from recycled and reclaimed materials.

“This legacy of generosity extends back generations in our company, and our shareholders today are excited to continue to live into it,” shares Harris.

Pictured with students from The Howard School who have begun the hospitality and tourism institute are faculty and representatives (from l to r): Rocky the Elf (Rock City’s mascot), Dean McAfee, Chef Gregory Carder, Gregory Fisk, SRC President & COO Susan Harris, Dr. Charles Mitch, The Howard School Executive Principal Dr. Le Andrea Ware, Susie Everly.


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