Ethical Performance
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editorial

We’re talking serious CSR here, aren’t we?

September 2015

Why is CSR sometimes considered a dirty word in business circles? I’ve mentioned in this column before the sniffy attitude I’ve received at mainstream business events when I’ve mentioned the acronym.

So I was intrigued by respected business magazine Fortune’s first ‘Change the World’ list.

It’s found 51 companies that have made a sizable impact on major global social or environmental problems as part of their competitive strategy. However it goes to great lengths to insist that the list is not meant to be a ranking of the overall “goodness” of companies or of their “social responsibility.”

“Big corporations are complex operations that affect the world in myriad ways. The goal here is simply to shine a spotlight on instances where companies are doing good as part of their profit-making strategy, and to shed new light on the power of capitalism to improve the human condition,” it maintains.

To assemble the list, the editors of Fortune and FSG, a non-profit social-impact consulting firm, contacted various business, academic, and non-profit experts around the world, asking for their recommendations.

These were then evaluated against four criteria: the degree of business innovation involved, the measurable impact at scale on an important social challenge, the contribution of the shared-value activities to the company’s profitability and competitive advantage, and the significance of the shared value effort to the overall business.

The top 10 companies proved to be Vodafone, Google, Toyota, Walmart, Enel, GSK, Jain Irrigation Systems, Cisco, Novartis and Facebook.

The supporting case studies – such as Vodafone’s work with Safaricom (a mobile money platform) and GSK’s development over 30 years of a malaria vaccine, are all showing how these companies are “doing well by doing good”, says Fortune.

How does that not classify as CSR? I thought the whole selling point of being a responsible business was that not only was a company doing good but it was also impacting positively on the bottom line. CSR and profit are not mutually exclusive. Neither are dirty words. In my book, they are what make a company ultimately sustainable.

So perhaps it’s time to ditch the acronym CSR if mainstream business views it in such a negative ‘tick box’ light? When a magazine of Fortune’s standing seems to be at great pains to distance its ‘Change the World’ list from ‘social responsibility’, surely the writing’s on the wall?

And if business can misinterpret what CSR stands (or doesn’t stand) for, what chance has the general public of understanding and appreciating responsible business practice? How can businesses spread their responsible message without fear of misinterpretation? Just recently a friend of mine described himself as a responsible drinker because he always made sure to recycle the can or bottle afterwards…

Answers on a postcard/email please.

liz.jones@ethicalperformance.com 




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