Sustainable Information Technology

CSR – Cynical, Naive or Effective?

 

We live in a post-financial-meltdown world and in the wake of Enron, Madoff and Bhopal. It’s a world where the Murdoch corporation taps the ‘phones of citizens who need support, not intrusion. In the UK, the public is sick and tired of the shenanigans of the political class, their expenses fiddles, their cosying up to the rich and powerful. The time has come for a new way of living and of doing business and politics, against the backdrop of an urgent need to combat global climate change.

In the world of business, the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility cannot be allowed to become an item on a check-list. The public will not accept CSR as just another facet of PR. The time for real change is here. As far as I can see, there are three kinds of organisations out there who are ‘doing CSR’.

Company C : CSR as Marketing Opportunity

C for cynicalCompany C sees CSR first and foremost as a marketing opportunity. There is no real commitment to social responsibility, communities, or specific campaigns such as Green IT. A plan is formed – usually involving some kind of gimmick – to bring the company into the public eye. Company C attempts to portray itself as an organisation that is taking positive steps on sustainability or some other issue. It hopes that by doing so it attracts good publicity or new customers.

There are countless examples of companies being ‘found out’ when they pursue this kind of strategy. In the area of sustainability, it’s referred to as Greenwash. For the rest of us, it’s referred to as cynical.

Company N: CSR as a quiet sideline

N for naiveCompany N genuinely believes that it should act ethically and takes positive steps to do so. But no one gets to hear about the way it does business, and the good work it does with individuals and communities.

The problem with this approach is that if good work isn’t publicised, then the bar isn’t being raised. CSR is not only the ethically correct  thing to do, it is a social strategy that also benefits business. CSR needs to become the norm, and that presupposes awareness that successful businesses do the right thing, and are seen to do it.

As I write, austerity measures to reduce indebtedness are putting massive pressure on the Charity sector. The non-profit organisations are trying to stem arterial gashes with sticking plaster. We have the perfect conditions for political polarisation, which we are already seeing in Greece. To put it bluntly, an unholy alliance of big business and pliant politicians got us into this mess, and it is now time for businesses to set clear examples, to take a leadership role in restoring social cohesion and sustainable prosperity.

Company E: CSR in the bones

E for effectiveCompany E has CSR in its bones. It knows that when it publicises and lives its business ethics it raises the bar and encourages other organisations to follow suit. It also knows that it attracts the right kind of staff – socially engaged individuals who want to be passionate about their work and their organisation, who embrace its values and are proud of its brand. Exactly the same can be said of Company E’s customers.

Company E knows that it cannot rest on its laurels, but there isn’t any real ‘effort’ going into its CSR initiatives. Why? Because CSR is seen as the lifeblood of the business and not an energy draining chore.

There is no doubt that political solutions are needed to overcome the problems facing the world economy and climate. But it’s also true that business has a massive role to play. Will that role be based on cynical short-term profit making? Or on principled actions that have the power to enhance the way we all live today?

My vision is one that turns the current situation on its head. In the future, businesses will be founded and run to serve society. Profits will be seen as a means to an end – the end being a better life for all. CSR will disappear, because it will simply be the norm.

Which are you? Cynical, naive or effective?