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Both students and industry are demanding that marketing instructors incorporate discussions of environmental and social responsibility into their courses. Marketing educators play a critical role in developing the knowledge and skills students need to effectively integrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their future business endeavors. Yet many educators struggle with developing meaningful and effective strategies to incorporate CSR authentically into their curricula. The project discussed in this article outlines a learning tool that encourages students to consider CSR in the context of their own purchase decisions while also considering CSR from a broader macro environmental perspective. The main goal is to build a CSR awareness that extends beyond a student’s initial purchase exchange. Using retail as the context, students are required to consider CSR challenges including labor laws, environmental regulations, sourcing issues, and so on from the retailer and supplier relationships as well as the retailer and consumer relationships. Based on preliminary results, students’ awareness of CSR challenges throughout the supply chain increased and the project proved to be an effective way to engage students in real learning about CSR.
The purpose of this exercise was to find a thoughtful and interesting way to integrate CSR into a traditional business course, specifically retailing. Today’s college student expects companies to engage in positive and ethical business practices. However, students, like most consumers, might fail to consider the partner firms that retailers work with in order to manufacture and distribute the products we buy. Furthermore, by constantly demanding lower prices, as consumers, we are putting tremendous pressures on retailers and manufacturers to use inferior materials, engage in unethical practices, pay lower wages, or use inappropriate production strategies to maintain lower price points. Students were encouraged to take a more systems thinking approach to the production and distribution of apparel, encouraging them to think beyond the initial retail exchange and perceptions of the brand they purchased. Students had to consider the materials, sourcing, labor, distribution, and other variables that are included in the purchases that they make. This exercise extends beyond the classroom and the students’ own purchase behaviors, but also influences (hopefully) how they will consider a broader consideration set when they are faced with these types of decisions throughout their careers.