So what do you think is the best term to describe businesses behaving responsibly within their various networks and communities? (See, its difficult even to describe without prejudging or loading the scales, and almost impossible without using the word ‘stakeholder‘).
Fabian Pattberg recently ran a poll, asking which of the following would be the best term to describe this:
- Corporate Responsibility
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Corporate Citizenship
- Corporate Sustainability
- Responsible Governance
- Sustainable Responsible Business
- Corporate Social Performance
- Others – Ethical Business / Business Ethics, Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Sustainable Business Culture, ESG (Environment, Social and Government), Business Ethics, Responsible Business.
On closing the poll, the most preferred term was Corporate Responsibility, with 21% of the votes, though as you can see it was a very close-run thing, with four main contenders and Sustainability coming a strong fifth.
(image snagged from FabianPattberg.com)
Now, when we started the Corporate Eye blog, we were unsure what to call this category of posts. We went for Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR for short – because that seemed to be what most companies were calling it, but at the time some on the team were arguing for Sustainability as a title.
But over the summer Chris MacDonald ran a series of posts on Business Ethics arguing against each of the elements of ‘CSR’ in turn. In summary:
CSR “isn’t (just) about corporations, isn’t just about social questions, and it isn’t just about responsibilities”.
So: what to call it?
This is where I confess that my vote in the Pattberg poll went to Responsible Governance, because I think it’s important that Responsibility – or whatever you care to call it – is embedded within the management and strategy of the company. (More on this another day). Clearly nobody else agreed with me, and it isn’t a term I’ve ever seen used in the wild.
So I reviewed the current FTSE 100 corporate websites, to see what was actually going on out there, and found that most companies – by a long way – are calling this section ‘Corporate Responsibility’ (no ‘social’). There are a few unusual cases, as you’d expect: companies that try to find a uniquely tailored title, or companies that don’t have a dedicated section to cover all ‘CSR’ topics, but choose to have separate sections such as Environment and Society.
But overall, the picture is clear:
Perhaps this isn’t surprising; standardising the names of sections on corporate websites makes it easy for the visitor to find what they’re looking for. What is interesting, though, is the difference between what the FTSE100 companies are actually using, and what the people taking the Pattberg poll thought. The poll results were much more evenly spread among the four front-runners, which aren’t the same as the four front-runners of the FTSE100 usage.
Possibly this comes down to a difference in what terminology people use in speaking or writing about a topic day to day, and what terms people expect to see on a corporate website.
But it is difficult to choose a term that doesn’t carry unintended baggage, because all those phrases mean something slightly different. I think this is why we see FTSE100 companies tending to adopt the same term, so it is easily recognisable by visitors, but people working within that sector will use the term that means the most to them. The corporate term will tend to become bland and inoffensive, and may lose its specificity because of being stretched in many different directions; individuals will use – and will argue vehemently for – the terms that mean exactly what those people want to convey, because the terminology matters.
So, given that we aim to parallel the corporate site, should we change to ‘Corporate Responsibility’ to follow the majority? Or – being pragmatic – to ‘Responsibility’ because it is short, and will fit well on one line in our navigation? I’ll accept that Responsible Governance doesn’t mean enough to enough people to be a sensible choice.
What do you call this on your website?
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