21 February 2012:
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not going to solve the world’s problems. That said, CSR is a way for companies to benefit themselves while also benefiting society. When I define CSR to the uninitiated, I typically get three reactions. Some say, “Isn’t that a bunch of greenwashing?” Others use a non-so-nice word to describe male bovine excrement instead of greenwashing. Still others say my definition sounds like an inspiring call to action to soothe the ills of capitalism. Then there are those who say CSR is like a begrudging call to Woodstock to sing Kumbaya – something only “hippies” could dream up.
So what’s a CSR professional supposed to do when faced with such a varied response? Typically, I step on top of my soapbox to declare the six business reasons why companies should embrace corporate social responsibility. Companies that “get it” are the ones that are using CSR (or sustainability as I prefer to call it) as a way to push the following business processes into the organization:
- Innovation – I know, I know, it’s an over-used term. Just typing the word into Amazon will bring up nearly 150,000 items. But in the context of CSR, innovation is a huge benefit to a company and society. For example, I recently watched a video of a brief talk by Geoff McDonald who is the Unilever Global VP for HR, Marketing, Communications and Sustainability. Using the “lens of sustainability” as McDonald described it, Unilever was able to innovate new products such as a hair conditioner that uses less water. Without sustainability, the company’s research and development efforts possibly wouldn’t have led to such a product.