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The CSR Litmus Test

Published: Sunday, March 27, 2011

I have to admit that I sputter and stammer my way through the use of the term CSR and not because it's difficult to roll off the tongue.  On the contrary, it flows so easily from the tongue that it has become a 'catch-all' phrase. 

My difficulty with the use of CSR is that it fails me.  And the Porter and Kramer position on CSV disappoints me. 

The 'corporate' focus is often used by SMEs to dismiss CSR from their vocabulary, claiming if it's corporate it must cost a lot of money and only work at the enterprise level.  Well, the good news is that there's room for everyone in the responsibility tent - no exclusive club here. 

And how does the average consumer interpret CSR?  For the most part, I expect if asked, the average consumer would shrug their shoulders.  I'd like to think that if the 'C' in CSR were to disappear, businesses would engage a lot more stakeholders than they currently do when they refer to 'C'SR.

Integrate. Don't Isolate your Social Responsibility.

My disappointment with the shared value position is the apparent absence of social integration into the business model, allowing for a rather limited interpretation of social responsibility.  Buoyed by philanthropic expression, cause-related marketing or employee volunteering, social responsibility is projected as an optional set of activities isolated from the core values of the business, almost as if they had been introduced to deflect attention away from the core business and to appease popular expectation.  

Don't kid yourself! EVERYTHING we do has a social consequence. Allow a climate of uncertainty in your business to go unchecked and watch how it affects your employees.  Work won't be the only place to feel the consequences; cranky employees take their work home with them.  In contrast, if you create a climate of trust, full of meaning and mutual respect, employee engagement will soar.

I like to think of the 'S' in CSR as an integral component of core business decisions, the litmus test used to help assess the value of a business option. 

Put Your Shoulder Behind It!

To insert social heft into how you conduct your business, try asking the following questions of your own business environment - whatever it is and wherever it functions.

(1)    Do the policies that affect your employees and the experience you create for them enable them to be effective in their work environment?  Will the policies help them contribute positively to the growth and development of their families and their communities when they leave work? Are they good ambassadors for you?

(2)    Do consumers and the communities where you do business benefit from your presence? If so, how do you assess the benefit?

(3)    Do you contribute positively to the environment, to help ensure it's able to sustain society for generations to come? 

(4)    Finally, when it comes to your supply chain, do you impose a set of social value expectations on it?  What measures do you take to ensure that human rights are not being abused?  And are best practices in place to minimize any negative environmental footprint?

The litmus test will be telling; the business advantage will be apparent.   

What else would you do to integrate social impact into core business decisions?  What care would you take in framing it?  What's missing from this discussion?


photo credit: Tony Gonzalez October 2006 via flickr

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