Expert Insights

Social Impact: A New “Business as Usual” in the US

March 23, 2020

By Tara Greco, Executive Director, Social Purpose

As we enter a new week of COVID, questions and concerns about how best to care for people in the midst of this pandemic continue to be the focus. Clients are grappling with: Who need the most help? Who could and should I help now? What is the best way to help my people through this, and people in general? What do they need now, and in the future to survive and eventually thrive again?

Given that all reports are pushing the timeframe to a period of months, not weeks, Company and sector executives responsible for leading social purpose are making decisions about short-term activities like volunteer events and relief fund donations, while also considering potential longer term adjustments for social and environmental initiatives like safe working environments throughout the supply change and the impact the business will have on climate change and public health in the new world order.

Finally, with major sustainability observances just around the corner, we’ve heard from a few industry leaders on the status of moments such as Earth Day – virtual is the name of the game. And one thing that COVID is quickly showing people is that the human impacts of climate change are real (cue dolphins and clean waters in Venice here).

General Social Impact

Most brands have a playbook for responding to a natural disaster. This is different, and many are smartly taking a step back first to evaluate what is needed, and what they can do both now and in the long-term to help the people in their care. Donations to relief funds are great, and brands should also think beyond money to provide key services like wifi, or equipment or delayed fee payments, if possible. Food is an urgent need so consider how you can support people who don’t have a safety net.

And the umbrella definition of “vulnerable” has widened due to the crisis; brands should consider how they can help the most vulnerable = small businesses, hourly-wage-earners, delivery people, food service workers, shelf stockers, custodial workers, bus/train/ride-share drivers, and the entire health care industry. Solutions that have started to trend include:

  • Waiving monthly or quarterly fees or payments in the short term
  • Providing the equivalent of 2-4 weeks of sick leave pay, if someone needs to take it for themselves or to care for a sick family member
  • Providing access (or funding) for a month of food and/or child care (if the person HAS to work)
  • Offering access to appropriate safety gear and cleaning supplies if the employee is required to work in a ‘front line’ job (e.g. custodians, public transportation, health care, deliver, grocery stores, etc.)

Here are some places to find specifics on relief funds and virtual volunteering. We’ve also identified some examples of non-monetary support and included a site that is cataloguing what major US companies are doing to support people during the pandemic.

  • The US Chamber Foundation is cataloguing corporate aid to address COVID-19. Information is self-reported. (The Chamber Foundation sets this up for most national or global disaster response tracking too.)
  • Access to food is an urgent need everywhere. In addition to the WHO fund, companies can support a dedicated COVID-19 relief fund at Feeding America, the network of food banks across the US. They are stretched because the supermarket and food service donations have diminished, and more people in every community are in need of food.
  • There are relief funds for vulnerable workers in key industries. These people are on the front lines, and most don’t work for large corporations. This is an opportunity for brands to help fill these gaps.
    • In-Home Care Workers: For many in-home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners the threat from Coronavirus is especially severe. Without access to health care, paid sick leave, or job security, they are being forced to navigate this crisis alone — without a safety net.
    • Eater is tracking funds for Restaurant, Bar, and Food Service Workers
  • Money is great, but it’s not the only asset your company can offer. Consider product donations (especially in the medical or cleaning supplies areas), waiving fees or charges temporarily, access to technology (wifi, video-conferencing), access to transportation or delivery systems. Recent examples include: o Comcast offering free wifi to low income families
    • Utility, phone and cable/internet companies giving consumers a break
    • Allstate is offering customers the opportunity to delay 2 premium payments.
  • Consider collaborating with peers and other stakeholders in your supply chain or region on short-term and long-term support and solutions. This is a big challenge, and we can do more by working together. The automakers and union are working together and the live entertainment industry established a task force.
  • Points of Light has guidance for companies wanting to maintain corporate volunteering when in-person service isn’t an option. You can find a list of virtual service ideas here.

Environment and Sustainability

Companies are not stopping their work related to environmental sustainability, but they have dialed back efforts in communicating about it. Most public events, gatherings and programs have been either cancelled or postponed. A few, like Earth Day, are being celebrated virtually—which will reduce the scale of this year’s celebration. While it does make sense for brands to mark the moment of Earth Day with their standard environmental messages in owned channels, this will not be the public communications opportunity that many brands were planning for at the beginning of the year.

  • April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Plans for live gatherings have been cancelled, but the celebration will continue virtually
  • We talked to editors at Green Biz and Triple Pundit to get a read-out of expected coverage of Earth Day and learned:
  • Much of their coverage has shifted toward the COVID-19 crisis and response, and they are still covering the news in the sustainability space.
  • They expect to note Earth Day in their coverage. And even without the pandemic, they would only cover real or significant news because their audience is savvy. Triple Pundit/3BL is open to news, if there is a relevant hook.
  • We are starting to see stories about how the environment benefits while most of the world is sheltering in place. While this is interesting, it’s not really an appropriate narrative for brands to push.
    • Dolphins, fish & swans showing up in Venice.
    • Reduced pollution in China (below map from MIT Sloan Review)

*If you have questions or are seeking counsel, email Tara at