Yuhan-Kimberly Seeks to Breathe Life into Its Tired CSR Program
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives which at one time helped companies to differentiate themselves are now expected practices, and distinguishing a company through “green initiatives” is a particularly high hurdle. A new case study* co-authored by Columbia Professor Bernd Schmitt examines how these familiar challenges are impacting the Yuhan-Kimberly Corporation (Y-K), and what strategies the company is considering in response.
The Yuhan-Kimberly Corporation has aimed to ‘do good’ since long before the term CSR was ever coined. When the corporation was founded in 1926 by Il-han New, he built the business on the principle philosophy that, “Profit-seeking is worthwhile only when it results not just in individual wealth but also in national prosperity.” By 1984, Y-K had established a reputation for trailblazing CSR when it instituted its “Keep Korea Green” tree planting initiative. And as recently as 2002, Yuhan-Kimberly was ranked in a national survey as the number-one company in all of Korea for goodwill, trust, and contribution to society.
Over the past few years, however, Y-K’s CSR efforts have grown tired and its environmental credibility has been called into question. The “Keep Korea Green” campaign has been left mostly unchanged since 1984, and countless competitors have created similar “green” programs. Additionally, Y-K is facing accusations of hypocrisy because its core products, such as diapers, are inherently wasteful. All of this has diluted the company’s perceived positive impact on society.
Yuhan-Kimberly now faces a difficult strategic decision, one that many companies are dealing with today: what innovations should a company use to set itself apart in a crowded CSR marketplace. Should Y-K revamp and reposition its signature tree planting program which has grown so stale? Should it seek a different, more contemporary “green” strategy? Or, should it evaluate other topical social issues facing Korea, and build a new CSR focus altogether?
* Chang, Dae Ryun and Bernd Schmitt, “Yuhan-Kimberly: ‘Keep Korea Green’,” Columbia CaseWorks, April 2, 2009, part of the Jerome A. Chazen Case Series.
To request copies of this case for academic purposes please e-mail ColumbiaCaseWorks@gsb.columbia.edu.
Bernd Schmitt is the Robert D.Calkins Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School, where he also directs the Center on Global Brand Leadership. He has authored or co-authored seven books which have been translated into 20 languages, including Experiential Marketing (1999), Customer Experience Management (2003), and Big Think Strategy (2007).
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