This editorial was published in CSRwire at the end of 2012. It is written by Sarah Coles, senior vice president
with Ruder Finn and a regular columnist for CSRwire Talkback.
But what I’m most excited about is how we’re
making CSR core to everyday business practices. A leading example of this is the
2012 Olympics, where sustainability was embedded into the essence of the
. More and more companies are following suit, from Levi Strauss
’ sustainable business
model, which led to a new denim collection this year made from recycled plastic
bottles and food trays, to Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan
where the CEO
committed to an unconventional plan that aims to double the company’s revenue
while halving its environmental footprint.
Twenty years ago, most people did not know what
corporate social responsibility was, let alone that people dedicated their
entire lives and careers to it.
In 1989, Ben & Jerry’s
became the first company to publish a
social responsibility report. However, it took nearly a decade for a major
Fortune 500 company to follow suit, with Shell publishing one in 1998. Now you
would be hard-pressed to find a major company that does not include some level
of CSR or sustainability results in its annual report. With more and more
corporations embracing CSR as a way of doing business every year, I believe this
trend will continue to grow and evolve in 2013 with some tangible ripple
1. Better Recognition For CSR In The
As CSR programs continue to grow in size and
scope, and more businesses see the value of investing in CSR, there is still a
lack of recognition for it at the executive level. Often CSR is lumped into the
not-for-profit arm of a company or the marketing department. But to truly
integrate CSR into a business, we need a seat at the senior table. To this end,
I’d like to see more Chief Sustainability Officers or perhaps Chief
“Responsibility” Officers helping to shape the future of business.
2. Tangible Measurements of Success
Skeptics say that CSR has failed. In his book
Responsible Business: How to Manage a CSR Strategy Successfully, Wayne Visser
devotes an entire chapter to explaining
the failure of CSR. The author goes as far as to say that “CSR has failed so
spectacularly to address the very issues it claims to be most concerned about,”
noting the billions of people who still live on less than $2 a day or do not
have access to safe water or sanitation.
But while CSR certainly plays a role in
addressing these lofty world challenges, it is not the only factor that
contributes to them. In fact, basing “success” on these types of statistics is a
very narrow way of looking at how CSR is measured.
Yes, we would all love to solve world hunger and
end global warming, but these changes are a process that is continuously
evolving, just like the CSR industry itself. Measures of success in CSR, in
fact, can be gauged in countless ways – from raising awareness to shifting
entire mindsets, from starting a dialogue to creating an entire social movement.
As CSR evolves, educating decision-makers on measurements of success needs to
become a critical part of the discussion.
3. Using CSR to Drive Competition
I believe CSR does a lot of good for society but
it also challenges businesses and professionals to think differently. In a way,
the friendly competition it creates – from companies’ reporting better emissions
numbers to competing for market share through new campaigns – CSR encourages
companies and consumers alike to think more critically about the choices they
This is one area where we’ve made the most
strides – companies thinking with a CSR mindset have developed more eco-friendly
products like Nissan’s Leaf
, the first mass-market electric car, and
Nike’s decision to create uniforms from discarded plastic bottles
, have been
creative with ad and marketing campaigns like GE’s Ecoimagination and Pepsi’s
Refresh Project, and donated billions of dollars to charities.
At the end of the day, CSR has shaped how we do
business today, and will play an even greater role in business as its value
continues to be realized. I hope that as we become more sophisticated, globally
recognized and respected, CSR will continue to shape and define the way
companies do business while pushing consumers to think more critically about who
they do business with.
This in turn will help us not only do great
things for the world (and move the ever-heavy needle), but also motivate and
encourage each other to do better, and not just for the sake of CSR. To me, that
2012 in Retrospect: Top CSR Executive Stories
2012 in Retrospect: CSR and Sustainability in the Press
2012 in Retrospect: Better Together, Corporate Responsibility Grows Up
2012 in Retrospect: An Economic Hit Man’s Tips for Creating a Glorious Future
2012 in Retrospect: New Economy, Banking and Guns
2012 in Retrospect: Are We ‘Chasing Our Own Tail’ On The Circular Economy?
2012 in Retrospect: Pitchfork Politics, New-Age Style
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