Published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on Monday 14 April 2008
CSR; when I first heard it I thought it was another one of those far fetched American crime dramas. Then I discovered it was an acronym for Corporate Social Responsibility… and remained none the wiser.
So I Googled it (interesting aside: did you know that the name Google was an accidental misspelling of the word googol – the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes), and was promptly presented with 4,530,000 results on everything anyone could ever want to know about Corporate Social Responsibility.
First stop, Wikipedia, that font of online knowledge, which informed me that CSR: “is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen to extend beyond the statutory obligation to comply with legislation and sees organizations voluntarily taking further steps to improve the quality of life for employees and their families as well as for the local community and society at large.”
When I got my breath back I read it again.
CSR then is basically a commitment by an organisation to do business in a socially responsible way… to go that extra mile, to be a good corporate citizen and to look after the people and the environment it interacts with. It’s about businesses looking outside the corporate box and acknowledging their broader responsibility to society as a whole.
Which all sounds very laudable. But are businesses really doing it?
Plenty of high profile Irish organisations profess to be. That Google list I mentioned earlier contains links to comprehensive CSR Statements from the ESB, Coillte, Tesco Ireland , KPMG, Repak and others. But are they just words, or is the concept of CSR really resonating with organisations and punching through the profit-skewed view of Irish CEOs?
How many employees, for example, really and truly believe their employers are putting their best interests ahead of the corporate bottom line? Or that management would opt to go with a more costly supplier simply because they could demonstrate better environmental credentials? Would your HiPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Organisation) choose to forsake profit for the greater good? Some might answer yes, but my guess is that the vast majority would have to say no. Or at least not yet.
But that could be changing. The pressure on businesses to become more environmentally and socially responsible is growing all the time, thanks largely to the high profile of environmental issues surrounding climate change. Higher consumer and employee awareness of these issues and of how corporate entities are responding to them means that addressing them is moving out of the realm of positive spin and PR, and is fast becoming an economic imperative.
People are demanding more accountability from the companies they do business with, and the companies they choose to work for. These days if a company can’t demonstrate that its taking its social responsibilities seriously it can potentially impact the calibre of its future workforce and erode its customer base. Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t just about doing the right thing any more… it’s about staying competitive in a rapidly changing world.
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