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Pets are a huge part of our lives. I am a dog guy, spoiling my 7 year old Chocolate Lab almost to the point of being one of those those crazy dog people. Almost, I said. The post below came to me in a newsfeed on NextDoor and it made me think.

Sadly, our sweet 15 year old cat was euthanized a few days ago. I called Chewy’s (an online pet supply delivery outlet) to obtain a mailing label and send back a large quantity of unused cat items that I had purchased from them. At the end of the phone conversation, they totaled everything and said my account would be credited, adding that, since our kitty had passed away, their policy at Chewy’s is to have me simply donate everything to my place of choice and not send them back the items. I was touched by their kindness, but, as if that wasn’t enough, last night the doorbell rang and there on my porch was this beautiful flower arrangement and yes, it was sent by the Chewy’s company. This gesture brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart. What major corporation does this? I just wanted to spread the word about this amazing experience from an amazing company.

Finding the right “S” – or even corporate purpose – partly involves truly understanding what touches the hearts of customers and stakeholders, not only what gets their fingers flying on the internet in anger. Chewy could rightly stake their position that they care for customers via normal business practices of selecting high quality and healthy products for pets and the convenience of direct-to-door delivery. But it seems they have a deeper appreciation of their business drivers and purpose.

Heartwarming experiences like this can be a powerful ESG business asset. Finding opportunities like this may not be easy, nor may they always be apparent or applicable in all situations.

Where to start

In many cases, the starting point is to ask “why do customers buy from us?” Price, selection and convenience are typical first responses. But your competitors will say the same things, so dig deeper. Peeling the onion may reveal latent business drivers that reflect a human or social sensibility. These are powerful foundations of business relationships and difficult for competitors to replicate.

But there are limits

Zeal to find ESG value levers has always been strong. The current corporate exuberance is reason to be optimistic that ESG is valued internally more than ever. Yet a modicum of constraint may be warranted: ESG business opportunities tend to come with some risks. It is advisable to involve counsel when making plans to explore deeper meanings of customer relationships and acting on these results.

Depending on the company and customer relationship, sending or receiving gifts may violate company policies. Probing customers about deeper foundations of their business relationships can be seen as violations of privacy or even law (such as when dealing with health or medical matters under HIPAA). Data privacy concerns may also be raised if using (or buying) customer preference or behavior data sets.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile