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Is CSR dead?

December 2, 2009

Photo credit: Ross Goodman via Flickr.

Is CSR dead? Google it to find out. You might be surprised to find out many people think so. Or depending upon your point of view, you won’t be.

The earliest proclamation I can find is mock obituary of CSR in a 2006 article from Ethical Corporation magazine.  It’s a fun poke at the movement away from CSR to sustainability. One other blogger chimed in to say that CSR 1.0 is dead and now it’s time for CSR 2.0.

What these voices have in common is a call to action to end the practice of using CSR to put out fires. Companies often create CSR programs to find the gaps in production & processes that could lead to pitfalls in society and the environment. What is really more important, they say, is that companies think long-term and truly integrate sustainability into the value proposition for the company.

But that is exactly what CSR is. Or at least, what it should be.

CSR is defined as how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society. That’s not my definition, but famous CSR blogger (who was blogging on CSR before “blog” was a word) Mallen Baker.

Now, you can ask ten people for their definition of CSR and get 12 different answers. But the fact of the matter is, CSR is an effort to look at the entire business and identify the areas where the company’s actions stand in contrast the values of the company, society, or the market. The problem is that those three value sets can and often are in conflict. And effective CSR management, where both society and the company prosper, arises out of the decisions that are made in both the harmonious and – even more so – acrimonious situations.

The call for a new definition of CSR or new terminology to more accurately reflect a longer-term and more fully integrated approach to CSR management isn’t necessary. Rather, companies that are wholeheartedly taking a look at how they can profit from truly green products and a definitively respectable workplace(s) are instead practicing a highly matured stage of CSR; not a whole new paradigm worthy of another distinguishing term.

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