What does “Corporate Social Responsibility” mean?
A couple of weeks ago I went along to an event on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Before the presentations started the chap next to me asked what I did. I explained I was an environmental and sustainability consultant and described what I did. His eyes narrowed a bit and he asked me “so why are you here?”. I was a little confused by this until he explained that he thought CSR began and ended with donating sums to community groups in the localities around his company’s development projects.
This is a perennial problem in the sustainability industry – everybody has a different idea of what each term means, leading to misunderstandings and confusion. So here are a few definitions of CSR.
The UK Government:
[CSR] is about how business takes account of its economic, social and environmental impacts in the way it operates – maximising the benefits and minimising the downsides.
“Corporate social responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept that organizations, especially (but not only) corporations, have an obligation to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and ecological considerations in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen to extend beyond their statutory obligation to comply with legislation.
All of these are roughly the same but with differing emphasis on the environmental side of the equation. Some companies and organisations now talk about “Corporate Responsibility” instead, believing that the word “Social” is leading to confusion. But all of them are much wider than the donation-based scope that my new acquaintance had in his mind.
Of course, there is quite a bit of evidence that links good CSR performance to good financial performance, for example this rather heavy academic paper.