Research in Progress: Green CSR perceptions in the U.S. and India

October 22, 2018

Nandini Bhalla

By Nandini Bhalla, University of South Carolina

Research has shown that multinational organizations (MNCs) engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in domestic and foreign countries to earn multiple benefits—such as goodwill and brand loyalty.

We have seen BP focus its advertising on preserving wildlife in Canada. Coca-Cola frequently shows off its work in Africa, distributing clean water to needy communities. Organizations are developing various strategies to effectively communicate about their CSR activities to local and global stakeholders and consumers. However, audiences may perceive these messages differently depending upon their cultural orientation. 

CSR literature has grown tremendously in the past two decades and it’s no surprise that organizations have realized the importance of engaging in environment-friendly activities, largely because protecting the natural environment is a key concern of stakeholders. People want to know they are supporting companies that do not pollute and, more than that, want to support companies that take extra steps to improve our imperiled natural world.

MNCs are increasingly engaging in environmentally friendly CSR practices in their home countries and in foreign lands to reduce the negative impact of their business operations. For example, the India-based organization TATA strives to contribute toward environmental sustainability by facilitating and conserving natural resources. 

Some countries have citizens that are very independent individuals. Americans, for example, value their uniqueness and autonomy. In India, however, citizens are more community-oriented—they value the wellness of their friends and family as part of their own wellness. My studies are comparing the effects of green CSR on such disparate people. How citizens from developed and developing countries evaluate these green CSR activities of MNCs is still largely unknown.

I am investigating how citizens with different cultural orientation perceive local and global companies based on their environmentally-friendly efforts. I am performing a scientific experiment that evaluates how citizens from developed countries (in this case, the United States) and developing countries (in this case, India) evaluate local and MNCs based on their environment-friendly CSR initiatives in their country. I will explore how an individual’s involvement with an environmental issue motivates him/her to share a company’s green CSR initiatives with others.

Self-construal is an important concept for my study because it explains whether an individual identifies one’s self either in relation to others, or as an individual entity. A person may choose to support a car company that saves her money on fuel, and another may choose to buy that car because it causes less pollution and is better for humanity as a whole.

Americans are considered as ideal standards of individualism, and Asians are an ideal standard for collectivism. However, some Americans can be as collectivistic as Asians, which may impact their decision-making. Self-construal plays an important role for individuals in determining whether environmental CSR concerns them.

In the end, I am hoping to contribute toward the CSR literature by understanding how individuals from different countries and different cultural orientations evaluate and support MNCs’ green CSR initiatives. This study has implications for multinational organizations to apply such knowledge to develop green programs and policies in a more strategic way.

These environmentally-friendly CSR initiatives will not only reflect societal benefits, but also individuals’ personal benefits for better receptivity and attitudinal change. For example, Starbucks may now see the benefit in making consumers aware of personal and environmental damage associated with the use of plastic to defend its stand on plastic straw ban.

International companies can disseminate their environmentally friendly CSR initiatives more effectively by customizing the message to different target audiences for enhanced involvement and support.

For further information on this study, email Nandini Bhalla at Results from the study will be available early next year. This project is supported by a Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center.