The happy bubbly world of CSR…

I got an email from a friend who suggested that I was being too nice on my post for Net Impact.

We had had an earlier discussion at the conference about CSR whitewashing and not being ‘real’ enough.

**update** – read his post here.

Although I still feel as though my post was a good reflection of what I really thought, I added the need for an edgier piece in the feedback questionnaire, asking to bring in a speaker/panel about the ‘dark side’ of CSR – something that will shake up the audience to start better understanding the arguments against this movement.

I love mixing with like minded people but I’m realizing the danger in doing so.

There’s a reason why the split between the environmental and economic camps took so long to see eye to eye (and can’t say they’ve reconciled but the two sides have come a long way in the last few years). Both sides have been so deeply entrenched in their beliefs, thinking that the other one has no idea what they’re talking about, that they become more divided. But finally corporate social responsibility is hitting the mainstream and it’s not a question of whether to do it or not, but it’s a question of how to do it.

Nevertheless, it is somewhat true that the followers and believers of CSR all kind of nod their head in agreement about bringing social and environmental values into the board room. But it’s never a good thing if we just keep on nodding. (A note for myself as well!) A good example came from the Director of Sustainability at KPMG. At a workshop he went to he had to do something like “speed dating” but with CSR people and investors. In 2 min they had to try and understand each other. They found out that the two spoke a different language. Interesting indeed…

We need to start learning new “languages” to understand all sides of this movement. CSR isn’t a fluffy, happy world and we should address that when all of these people get in the room together. Otherwise, we’re just preaching to the converted.

So, going back to that post, what are the hard questions that we need to start asking ourselves? What aspects of the sustainability movement do we need to confront? Not as an exercise to bring us down, but to make it stronger?

This goes for everything. If you’re a lefty, go pick up a right-winged magazine. If you’re a hard core economist, go read Silent Spring or something.

Which reminds me; I need to go read the Skeptical Environmentalist.

And on another note…

HAUSKAA JUHANNUSTA! (Happy Mid-Summer) – Saturday is the longest day of the year here (rises at 3:22 and sets at 23:15…but never dark) and most likely half this population will be drinking and sauna-ing at camps/cottages/kesämökkit for the weekend:) Looking forward to it!

This was two years ago in Finland… but expect to be doing the same thing this weekend:)

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6 thoughts on “The happy bubbly world of CSR…

  1. Jay Godse says:

    Jane…the economic camps don’t have to learn a new language, because they control the purse strings. The CSR guys need to learn the economic language.

    If the CSR folks can explain sustainability in terms of “Return on Investment”, “Return on Capital”, “Operating Margins”, etc, then these ideas may get some traction in the boardroom and the executive suites.

    I think that the CSR folks have won a coup at companies such as BP and Ford because those companies are starting to brand themselves as “green companies”. That means that people will call them out if they don’t act in a way consistent with their green brands, and that impacts revenues indirectly.

    However, I prefer substance over form. Toyota doesn’t brand itself as “green”, but it produces the vehicles with the best mileage, and it produces the most hybrid vehicles as well. Interestingly, those concepts translate well into better “return on investment”, “operating costs”, et cetera for their customers as well as being less bad to the environment.

    The problem of nodding in agreement but doing nothing will not change until somebody can confidently invest in a CSR idea in hope of a personal return on investment (e.g. bonus, stock options, job security, promotion, personal branding).

    Corporate social responsibility is a crock of poo. Corporations are amoral, and their only objectives are to serve the customers and shareholders. If “corporate social responsibility” does it, then they’ll do it. They never do it just because it is the “right” thing to do.

    Learn the economic language, and package CSR ideas in those terms.

  2. janeporter says:

    While I don’t think that CSR is poo… you do have a point that performance is the key aspect.

    While at the conference one of the panellists asked who would invest in a socially responsible investments (SRI) if the return was just a little less. The key bankers of SRI were all in agreement – no – SRI needs to be equivalent or better than the rest. And, although it can be debated depending on the study for the most part, SRI does work.

    One of the main reasons is that more time is put into researching the funds and in many ways, this can translate into researching the intangible assets that just don’t come up on the finances – making the SRI investor better positioned to make decisions.

    So, just one example where yes – the CSR camp is talking the language.

    All corporations aren’t amoral. Corporations are made of people – and yes, plenty of amoral people out there but not everyone is amoral. If a corporation has no standards or principles, it will gain in the short but lose out in the long run. Amoral tendencies sure, but give some credit where credit is due.

  3. […] About ← The happy bubbly world of CSR… […]

  4. jem says:

    check out http://www.sustainableluxury.net/post.cfm/where-was-the-passion
    on this conference and my comment on Timothys ideas

  5. katia says:

    Interesting discussion, wish I could attend Net Impact conference as well… well, the point I wanted to make is that there is no universal agerement neither in business world nor in academic community on the idea of CSR, namely, that is the core or essential elements.. therefore we have similar concepts such as organizational responsibility, corporate citizenship, corporate governance, corporate accountability, corporate social performance, corporat social responsiveness, corporate societal responsibility and so on and the reason I believe is twofold, the CSR concept itself is evolving in order to better reflect business reality (such as encompass economic aspects) as well as the perception of CSR differs across continets and various socioeconomic structures. Namely, the idea of CSR is linked to the role of business within society that in turn depends on the variety of capitalism peculiar for particular country. Well guys, here I see discussion between liberal capitalist and social democratist :))) so, social and political settings we were upbring and now are shape our understanding. Also, even if we take a stand that corporations are amoral, the people working inside might be responsible citizens. Just take a look at the history of CSR idea, it emerged as the outcome of managerial revolution where ownership and managerial functions were divided and the generation of professional managers (who are not owners) admited that corporation itself have a wide variety of responsibilities beyond profit maximization. Myself, while living in Finland I have change my mind about the CSR idea and believe that it has future and in addition to learning others language emphathy and partner’s perspective should be taken into account.

  6. Loosquesism says:

    I am new to this forum and want to say hello to all of you, it is really fantastic place to share own expirience, I will stay here for a longer. Many interesting topics. (:

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