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CSR Lessons For CEOs

October 25, 2012

A few days ago, my fellow Forbes.com contributor Paul Klein published an interviewwith Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) President and CEO Aron Cramer. The flagship organization in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field is celebrating its 20th anniversary at its annual conference in New York. I was fortunate enough to continue the conversation with Aron Cramer. We highlighted some of the insights from the conference and we dug into the history of the field and the direction it should be headed. Here is my conversation with Aron:

How did Business for Social Responsibility start?
BSR got started by a number of strands that were woven together actually. But primarily there were members of the Social Venture Network who had created an organization that was really for individuals and that’s what SVN was and still is today. Some people, with Josh Mailman being one in particular, said wouldn’t it be great for to have an organization for companies in addition to a network of entrepreneurs who are concerned about corporate responsibility? The word “sustainability” wasn’t used much in those days. It was called CSR.

So that’s the short version. The organization was set up as a counterpoint to traditional business lobbying organizations in Washington. So it started with the mission to provide a progressive voice to influence public policy. Simply put, a year or two in, people concluded that that wasn’t really working well so it was re-launched in 1994 as an organization that would provide direct assistance to companies to help them become more sustainable in their own operations.

How have CSR and sustainability changed in the past 20 years?
I think they have gotten more serious. The story over the last 20 years is Read more…

The Six Reasons Why Companies Actually Wind Up Embracing CSR

October 17, 2012

Awhile back I wrote an article titled “The Six Reasons Why Companies Should Embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).”  In fact, it was one of my most popular posts, thank you very much all you readers out there.

Photo credit: Goynang through a Creative Commons License via Flickr.

However, in fancy political science- and economics- speak, that was what they call a “normative analysis” – a perspective based on fact that describes how something should be and not how something actually is. So, for example, we may suppose that politicians during presidential debates should use the national stage they’ve been given to advance the dialogue on important socio-political issues. But do they?

So today I write what is called a “positive analysis” regarding why companies ultimately wind up embracing CSR. So for example, rather than try to have an intellectual discussion about policy, it seems our politicians us their platforms to try to shut the other guy down, hoping for a Lloyd Bensten-esque zinger that will stand the test of time (“…I knew Jack Kennedy… Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”)

After all, not every company embraces CSR because it now understands the opportunities it derives from enlightened self-interest. Here are six possible explanations  of why a company could choose to be socially responsible:

Reason #1: It’s just the way it has always been

Some companies have been oriented toward social and environmental responsibility since Read more…

Watch: What is ‘Creating Shared Value’?

June 4, 2012

Creating Shared Value (CSV) is a powerful tool and concept for companies to use as they look to conduct business. Ultimately, it’s a strategy for developing the future market while also strengthening economies, the marketplace, communities, and corporate coffers. Yet the term runs the risk of being confused with corporate social responsibility (CSR) or, worse, as being a way to redistribute wealth. To combat this, we are launching a video to illustrate and explain the concept of CSV. 

You see, sometimes it seems that the CSR field is engaged in a lifelong game of the 1970s game show classic, Password. In this version, each of us practitioners tries to guess the next iteration of the naming rights of the field based upon one-word associations.

Your C-Level celebrity and partner utters the acronym “CSR” and you respond “SUSTAINABILITY!” The crowd gives a round of applause and you get a pat on the back. Then it’s on to the next word.

About the last thing the CSR or sustainability field needs is yet another term for itself. A while back, I wrote a blog post about this confusion in an attempt to describe where I stand about this word choice.  And now the field is faced with another term: Creating Shared Value (CSV).

But in conversations with corporate folks, academics, and social media mavens, I find that Read more…

How to find a CSR job in a big company

March 13, 2012

Photo credit: Aidan Jones via a Creative Commons license through Flickr.

This post also appeared on the Forbes.com CSR blog.

Even though it’s only March, graduation season is just around the corner. Before you know it, across the country, hundreds of thousands of individuals will be walking across the stage to receive a scroll that represents four years of hard work. It’s the start of a new life and a new career. So what’s a graduate to do if he or she is interested in a career in corporate social responsibility (CSR)?  Here is some advice that I often offer to newly minted professionals looking to establish themselves in a career in CSR.

First and foremost, the two most important skills for a CSR-professional include: Read more…

Cookie Cutter Sustainability

March 7, 2012

They say it’s better for the planet, but how sustainable is it? And is it right for you?

This photograph was taken by Dan McKay on December 7, 2006, using a Nikon E5900 and was obtained via a Creative Commons License through Flickr. The photographer does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in this article.

For the girl next store or the company down the street, sustainability can be a real head scratcher, especially when you factor in busy schedules, limited cash flow, and confusing choices. Further tensions arise when individuals and companies give in to overly formulaic or prescriptive sustainability strategies. What’s right for the single guy in Kentucky with a small plot of land isn’t right for the big-city girl in Chicago with a house plant and a public transit card. And what works for the big coffee shop chain isn’t necessarily a good fit for the neighborhood café.

To limber up on our sustainability choices, it is important to:

  • Resist the quick fix: They say it’s local, organic, or more energy efficient, but is it the best solution for your home or company? Much of today’s society is enamored by standardized guidebooks and regulations manuals, three-minute microwaveable meals, diet pills, and one-and-done checklists. But if the goal is true sustainability, then you have to do what is right for your lifestyle. The same applies to an office or a company.

Read more…

The 6 Reasons Why Companies Should Embrace CSR

February 21, 2012

Photo credit: Nelson Piedra using a Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not going to solve the world’s problems. If it were that easy, the problems would have been solved by now. Rather, CSR is a way for companies to benefit themselves while also benefitting society. When I define CSR to the uninitiated, I typically get three reactions. To a few, it evokes a response that asks, “Isn’t that a bunch of greenwashing?” And sometimes they use a not-so-nice word to describe male bovine excrement instead of greenwashing.  To some, my definition sounds like an inspiring call to action to soothe the ills of capitalism. And to others, CSR is like a begrudging call to Woodstock to sing Kumbaya – something only “hippies” could dream up.

So what’s a CSR professional supposed to do when faced with such a varied response? Typically, I step on top of my soapbox to declare the six business reasons why companies should embrace corporate social responsibility. Companies that “get it” are the ones that are using CSR (or sustainability as I prefer to call it) as a way to push the following business processes into the organization:

  1. Innovation – I know, I know, it’s an over-used term. Just typing the word into Amazon will bring up nearly 150,000 items. But in the context of CSR, innovation is a huge benefit to a company and society. For example, I recently watched a video of a brief talk by Geoff McDonald who is the Unilever Global VP for HR, Marketing, Communications and Sustainability.  Using the “lens of sustainability” as McDonald described it, Unilever was able to Read more…

Top 5 Sustainability Trends for 2012

February 14, 2012

More than a coincidental number of people have asked me in the past couple of weeks as to what I am seeing as trends in the sustainability arena, a top 5 trends of 2012, so to speak.   So, here is what I’m seeing this year.

1) Companies are overwhelmed.
2012 continues with a depressed economy with high unemployment, tight budgets, and a great deal of uncertainty.  The rules of business of business keep changing.  Then adding to this uncertainty and over whelm is a rise of new stakeholders who are on the move and actively seeking change.   James Epstein-Reeves in his recent blog post on the Pain of Sustainability speaks to this quite well.  Pressure is no longer coming from one or two directions; it is coming in from all directions and on business elements that have never been touched or effected before.  People are upset with the status quo and are voicing their opinion with the media, with their feet, and with their shareholder proposals.  See #2 and #3.

2) It is all about trust and rebuilding trust.
Trust is fragile and Edelman’s 2012 annual Trust Barometer should be a wake-up call to all business.  Trust in business and governments remains low and continues to drop. The Arab Spring last year, the growth of Occupy Wall Street, and the ever-presence of social media have created new paradigms in communication evoking change in systems, countries, companies, and brands.
Building trust or rebuilding it, as the case may be, needs to be more than merely what you can do, it needs to be about who you are while you are doing it as well as your consistency while doing it. Edelman, in their annual report from the field, talks about the path forward being more than just a business’ license to operate – it is about developing a license to lead.

3) Upstream supply chain responsibility: a flood of social & environmental responsibility issues are brewing.
The era of supplier anonymity and vague responsibility is over.  Whether it is conflict minerals, animal welfare, human rights, child labor, human trafficking, working conditions, unemployment, or political undesirability (Arab Spring and Occupy Movements) – people are watching, talking, no longer accepting business as usual, and taking action.
Read more…