Corporate Eye

Which CSR meaning floats your boat?

Always, there’s a moment when the penny drops.

For me, in comedy, it was somewhere between:

Listeners who are listening will realise Minnie and Henry are talking rubbish.  There are no elephants in Sussex, they’re only found in Kent.  North of a line drawn between two points, thus making it the shortest distance.  (The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill on Sea / The Goons)

and

Why not … collect those little metal bottletops and nail them upside down to the kitchen floor?  This will give a sensation.. of walking on …  little metal bottletops nailed upside down to the kitchen floor. (Design For Living / Flanders and Swann)

The same can be said for CSR, or whatever you want to call it.  There’s always a moment when some word or phrase triggers something in you and that’s what drives you forwards.

For me it was sustainability, although I’ve recently been told that’s passé and business is now all about resilience.

So in this riddle of different CSR meanings, I wonder which of the following floats your boat?

Corporate (Social) Responsibility

CSR is probably the most common acronym, although many drop the ‘S’ so that it doesn’t look incongruous when they include carbon emissions and water usage in their reports, although there is an environmental dimension to social justice in any case.

However it’s also a “beating your wife” statement, insomuch that a company which trumpets its new responsibility programme is implying that in the bad old days it was irresponsible, and if it says it’s always been responsible then the counter can be that the programme is just a PR exercise then.

Ethical business

There are many people out there who know much more about ethics than I and who will never tire (I suspect) of pointing out to me that all our actions are ultimately ethical in nature.

However talking about ethical business as an approach is once against falling into the “beating your wife”  trap, the implication being that businesses either used to be unethical or are now promoting their ethics as a PR exercise.

Sustainability

My own favourite, although many dislike it because of the implication of stagnation and the consequent connection with Herman Daly’s ineptly named Steady State Economy.  However it’s the only one I can see which can fulfil measuring economic activity using items other than money.

In essence it says we should not take any more from the environment than can be replaced naturally or create any more waste than can be absorbed.  By implication this can be expanded to include people’s quality of life.

Philanthropy

For as long as there has been wealth there has been charity and philanthropy is surprisingly common among the rich.  Corporate philanthropy follows much the same lines, with companies giving cash, services or time to any number of good causes from the arts to conservation.

However philanthropy is often criticised for “giving back” what it should not have taken in the first place, thus allowing corporations to continue being driven wholly by profit and nothing else.

Social Enterprises / Benefit Corporations (B Corps)

There is a common misconception that these are charities: they’re not.  They are businesses with shareholders, profits and dividends, just like any other.  However their purpose is not to maximise profits for those shareholders but to maximise the benefit society gets from their services.

Social enterprises are a great way to bring the power of enterprise into the delivery of social programmes.  However their scope is limited and there is little use for them by definition in other commercial relationships with consumers and businesses.

Resilience

The rising buzz word of the business world.  Resilience is all about being flexible and able to meet any future challenge, especially those concerned with climate change.  Implicitly this flexibility is often interpreted as meaning smaller business units which are more embedded within a community and less dependent upon a central management.

Because of this it’s being widely embraced by the transition and post growth movements which seek to

… and finally, its worth also noting: Socially Responsible Investing (SRI),  Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) and impact investing.  These are all tools used by investors to measure and consider which businesses they should invest in, with different

.

As above, I prefer sustainability because it provides measurable and comparable metrics away from financial profit and loss, and I have a real distaste for ethical business.

That said I realise that all of these approaches have their own merits and drawbacks and essentially all dance around the same themes: ensuring business is conducted in a manner which is trustworthy and does no net harm.

Picture Credit: canoeCN_4397 / clarita / morgueFile

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.
 
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