alberto andreu, aman singh, aman singh das, cause marketing, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, creating shared value, CSR, CSR communications, CSR reporting, examples of CSR, henk campher, jobs in CSR, journalism best practices, philanthropy, reporting standards, risk management, shared value, social media, social responsibility, sustainability, sustainability jobs, sustainable business
One of my most common complaints, after “Why Don’t Executives ‘GET’ CSR?” is why mainstream media hasn’t been giving due diligence to sustainability, corporate governance, employee engagement, social responsibility, the confluence of business, society and the environment, and everything else that connotes CSR.
2010: Professor Aneel Karnani’s Case Against CSR and Michael Porter’s Creating Shared Value
In 2010, there were a few noteworthy attempts. Aneel Karnani’s editorial in The Wall Street Journal on The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility, which evoked numerous blogs, response pieces, live panels and tremendous conversations.
Then came Michael Porter’s piece on Creating Shared Value in Harvard Business Review. Not only did Porter start a flurry of debates, white papers and panels, the report even introduced new hashtags for Twitter users: #CSV and #sharedvalue; and a new hangtag for consultants.
Everyone understood shared value, they could contextualize the term, even measure it, and therefore, make a better case for business and social responsibility.
Debating Semantics: CSR vs. Sustainability
At Vault and more recently at Forbes, my effort has always been to highlight issues that needed addressing, questioning, cajoling, and analyzing. Soon after Porter’s piece, I asked two experts in the field to take on the debate, which often gets lost as semantics: Henk Campher, SVP for CSR and Sustainability with Edelman, and Alberto Andreu, Chief Reputation and Sustainability Officer with Telefonica accepted the challenge.
Campher took us through the evolution of the term “CSR,” concluding that corporate social responsibility, does indeed, fit best.
Here’s an excerpt:
We should look at the description of CSR itself. Why do we use these very specific three words to describe what we do? I would argue that the concept is actually a very good description of what we do today. Here’s why:
Corporate implies that this is about business.
- It not only describes that we are busy with a discipline involving business but goes deeper.
- It is about profits – how we make them and how we can make more of them today and tomorrow.
- It is not about charity.
- It is about building a sustainable business model that will continue to deliver business results for stakeholders – especially shareholders.
Social tells us this is about society.
- It is about the impact business has on society and how we can manage this impact to ensure both business and societal benefit.
- Even the environmental part of CSR is about society – how we can minimize environmental impact to benefit society in the end of the day.
- The new developments in CSR – sustainability – further continue to prove that CSR is about a mutually beneficial relationship between product and service development, and societal value chains.
Responsibility reveals that business does carry a responsibility in this world–to do business in a way that benefits both business and society. Further, this responsibility gives business the opportunity to create new solutions to the needs of society. I would even argue that it is their responsibility to develop these new solutions and benefit by capturing new avenues of sustainable profit.
All three concepts—Corporate, Social and Responsibility—tell us exactly what we do today. CSR is also the perfect reminder of the relationship between business and society, and the responsibility they have towards each other. None of the other concepts proposed today actually tell us what we are doing and what we should be doing.
Andreu on the other hand, prefers sustainability over CSR. His key points:
Using CSR as an expression is not an academic problem but one that has very tangible consequences for companies.
Organizational: The classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. Most of the time, the rest of the company doesn’t know what the CSR team/executives do.
Defined functional areas don’t suffer from the same vagueness. HR is dedicated to people, the finance team crunches numbers, the operations team is in charge of systems and back up, etc. But how do you identify the team dedicated to such a vast array of duties, i.e., diversity and inclusion, environmental management, climate change, ethics, corporate volunteer management, social sponsorships, entrepreneurship, multistakeholder engagement, transparency, SRI, reputation, and human rights?
What we get instead is a big mess.
Structural: If CSR is about philanthropy, management will accordingly participate in sponsorship, PR and communications exercises because their objective is maximizing the return of investment in reputation building, not responsible and ethical business. For most companies, in fact, it is common practice for the CSR manager not be associated with evaluating social and environmental risk.
Budgetary: Let’s be honest. We all know that it is much easier to ask for a budget to implement philanthropic programs than for mapping out a business’ core environmental risks, or implementing an ethics code, or auditing the supply chain. Even in the best case scenarios, other areas of an organization will manage these issues as part of their day-to-day work but the reality is that when something is difficult to communicate, resource allocation becomes a much harder task.
Management: It’s easy to measure the impact your donations are having by stringing out the appropriate key performance indicators (KPI) for any given year. But what KPI efficiently summarizes responsible behavior? The resulting scorecard is usually so large and convoluted that even the most dedicated executives give it up because of its sheer confusion and lack of focus.
The concept of CSR has been exhausted, we have to expand it for effective impact, and for that, we have to adopt sustainability. And that’s why I say, “It’s sustainability, stupid!”
The reason these debates work is because they compel people to chime in, share from their own experiences and research, and crowd-source solutions that everyone can agree on. While the debate elicited several comments on Vault, the tweets, comments, advice and feedback continued to pour in for weeks after publication.
Citizen Journalism Or Simply Responsible?
At the end of the day, media — and journalists — have a responsibility to business, to society, and to a global audience as well. Back in India when I was making the leap from kindergarten to first grade, it was The Times of India and other newspapers that became my primary sources of reading, grammar, comprehension and GK (a common monicker for ‘general knowledge’ used by school kids, at least in those days!).
Today, journalists are expected to inform and engage a vocal audience of readers. Bring in social media tools and you have a vocal and ready consumer base willing and confident to discuss, debate and make choices in real time with you. And this is where the CSR debate with Campher and Andreu did well.
For me, as a journalist and a resolute CSR practitioner, it is indeed heartening to see that those small, infrequent attempts are now becoming frequent analogies and commentaries within the circles of mainstream media.
In fact, here are three reports in recent weeks that came to my attention:
- Sustainability Jobs Get Green Light At Large Firms: by WSJ’s Careers Reporter Joe Light
- Doing Good to do Bad? by WSJ‘s Justin Lahart
- ‘Shared Value’ Gains in Corporate Responsibility Efforts: by NY Times‘ Steve Lohr
While I give kudos to Light, Lahart and Lohr for highlighting these, we — the journalistic community — must evolve to a state of journalism where good and bad business practices and sustainability are part of everyday reporting and dialogue.
The incredible work of Alice Korngold and Ann Charles on Fast Company, my fabulous co-contributors on Forbes’ CSR blog, and Marc Gunther at Fortune must become more commonplace, much more grassroots, more mainstream.
Some call it citizen journalism. For me, it’s just plain professional responsibility. We owe it to our organizations, the economy, future generations, our planet, and at the end of the day, to ourselves.
aman singh, aman singh das, brand loyalty, brand management, corporate citizenship, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, CSR, CSR communications, CSR strategy, employee engagement, Facebook, Google+, human resources, innovation, job hunting on social media, leadership, management, marketing, PR, Quora, recruitment, reddit, social media, stumbleupon, sustainability, transparency, Twitter
There is a lot of love for social media among many in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability community. [Take this short survey and have your say: Useful, necessary engagement tool or hate it and a complete hassle?]
Lucy Marcus, founder of Marcus Venture Consulting, for example, posted a blog today on Harvard Business Review, that talks about a particular Groupon deal that annoyed her enough to tweet about it and how that rose several eyebrows and an eventual resolution.
David Connor recently wrote about his love for Twitter, calling it a fascination and being constantly impressed by the simplicity of engagement and the tangible sense of community the platform provides. In his post, he alluded to a recent confession of mine, simply titled: In Defense of Twitter: 5 Reasons Why I am a Mad Tweeter, which was a response to an alternatively headlined Wall Street Journal article.
For those interested, here is a recount of my top five:
1) Community: Twitter has provided me with a very diverse community of individuals who are eager to engage, argue and collaborate.
2) Soundboard: Without the 20 odd tweets I send out every day, I wouldn’t get any work done. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know—but it’s true. You’ve got to go where your audience is. They have a voice and they like to use it—and as a blogger, hearing what’s working and what’s not is inarguably essential.
3) Collaborations: And of course, without Twitter, I wouldn’t have made HR Examiner‘s Top 25 HR Digital Influencers for 2011 or named among the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America. Nor would I have been able to successfully put together the recent panel on responsible business with Carol Sanford, Jeffrey Hollender, Sarah Murray and Bank of America, or been able to interview thought leaders like Campbell Soup’s Dave Stangis, PwC’s Shannon Schuyler, EMC’s Kathrin Winkler and many others while at Vault—and collaborated with enterprising students like Ashley Jablow, Catherine Chong, entrepreneurs like Myles Lutheran and the EDF Climate Corp fellows, or published the much-referred to series on job hunting in CSR.
4) News: Believe it or not, Twitter has become a significant source of my daily news. With the help of coordinated lists, I can scan the morning news in one stream all at one source.
5) Innovation: How many times have you read an 800-word article in one the mainstream newspapers and thought “Wow, that’s interesting, I wonder how I could learn more” or “I’d love to get involved” but haven’t known what to do next? Well, because it’s so easy to connect with others on Twitter without having to jot down strenuous emails or phone calls, now you can!
But Connor also brought up transparency and corporate accountability.
And here is where most companies struggle with the plethora of choices available today under the domain of social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and the new kids on the block BranchOut and Google+, to name just a few.
So, how helpful are these channels? BRANDfog, a social media and CSR consulting firm launched a survey last week that begins to dig deeper into some of these questions.
Should CEOs be engaging on Twitter for example? Does that help gain trust with customers, loyalty with employees, or raise the bar on transparency?
Has social media become a benchmarking tool for prospective candidates in their recruitment decisions?
And does a presence on social media help companies illustrate their brand values, mission and corporate citizenship?