It’s an odd existence to follow. First everyone says “Eh? What’s that then?” Then they fall in love with you and can’t get enough.
Later there’s the inevitable falling out, typified by arguments over what it was all about to start with. Lastly, the final stage is a grudging acceptance that no matter what, this is how things are set to remain for evermore.
Yep, life as a TLA* is tough. Only the most successful reach the heights of HTTP, the JK Rowling of acronym-land, used and translated the world over.
Most of the others fall by the wayside, the discarded betamaxes of their generation.
From Familiarity to Contempt
CSR is well on its way through this lifecycle. The “Eh?” stage lasted several decades, some would say centuries. Then CSR was picked up as part of the growing sustainability revolution and everyone fell in love with it.
However, now the arguments are starting to break out. For starters, what does CSR stand for? Is it:
- Corporate Social Reporting
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Corporate Sustainability Reporting
Two out of three are a form of reporting, so talking about CSR reports just doesn’t make sense. Then again, if it’s the second option (which it was originally), what happens to the environment and all the cute, cuddly critters?
Then there’s the next issue: Corporate. The roar from boardrooms across the land cannot have gone unnoticed: “Whaaaat? Only businesses have to be responsible??”
Of course not; so the ‘C’ really is superfluous to requirements. Every organisation, every person needs to be social, or sustainable, or responsible. Or whatever.
However this one letter has swayed some to junk the CSR tag. After all, why should it be just companies? One of the points about sustainability is that it requires effort from all of us – Government bodies, charities, NGOs and, most importantly of all, private individuals.
Some have followed the lead of John Elkington and his famous Triple Bottom Line. This requires that a company is measured by it performance in social, environmental and financial terms.
Businesses following this protocol have retained their existing financial reporting infrastructure and created a new one alongside it. Typically this is called the “Society and the Environment” section.
However, just as “Corporate Social Responsibility” missed the environmental point, so “Society and the Environment” misses the labour relations aspect many include in sustainability’s definition.
Others have preferred to adopt the “Health, Safety and Environment” approach. This seems to cover all the bases and comes in many alternative forms. These include a reshuffled “Environment, Health and Safety” and the optional suffixes Security and Quality.
The Real Bottom Line
All of this is in danger of obscuring what the core issue underlying all of these efforts really is: Sustainability.
There are many aspects to what a sustainable economy is. There are many debates yet to be had, many approaches to be tried and many solutions to be found.
However we cannot let ourselves be drawn into the concept that simply protecting biodiversity or improving labour conditions is enough. They are steps on the road, not the final destination.
Nor can we be lured into the belief that sustainability is a new addition to current business practices. It is not. It is a new way of doing business: a new business practice in its own right.
Sustainability, like present-day financial management, needs to be embedded into every aspect of an organisation’s activities, no matter what the commercial footing of that organisation is.
Rather than quibble over which model of TLAs is required for which type of organisation the straightforward practice of reporting sustainability needs to spread. If the John Elkington model is followed, this will include and subsume financial reporting.
It is for this reason that we will adopt the term “Sustainability Reporting” because it is this, rather than the type of report employed, which matters most in the long run.
(*) Three Letter Acronym
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