Saturday, March 28, 2009

Googlization: For Better or Worse?

I have been intrigued by the twittering and gnashing of teeth over the past week or so over Google's launch of its Street View maps for 25 cities in the UK. This case illustrates the CSR-related dilemmas faced by many companies today. In this blog, I look at the basic facts, the pros and cons and the implied questions for CSR.

What is Street View?

Street View is a 360 degree photographic panoramic view of the streets, which can be accessed through Google Maps in the cities in which it is available. The photos are about a year old and faces and number plates are blurred out. Google believes this is simply an evolution of mapping, giving people more useful and accurate information about their travel routes and destinations. Although new to the UK, it has, I believe, been available in the US for some years already.

What are the Objections?

A number of thematic concerns have emerged in the post-launch hulabaloo:

  1. Privacy - The most common objection is that this represents an invasion of privacy and a commericalisation of public space. Somehow, people feel vulunerable, even violated, by having photos of their homes, cars and in some cases themselves or their children, made public.
  2. Security - There are concerns that Street View creates a tool for criminals (burglars and perhaps peidophiles) to search for, target and study their victims homes - do they have a burglar alarms, where are the windows and doors, are there children playing in the garden?
  3. Consultation - Individual members of the public were not consulted, or asked for permission, before Google took photos of their home. They did this using a modified car, with a special mounted camera that drove down each street taking 360 degree photos.
  4. Googlization - There is a deep mistrust among some portions of the public who believe Google is somehow taking over the world, invading our lives, like some sinister, evil meglomaniac - the latest in a long line of corporate colonisers and cultural imperialists, like Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

What is Google's Response?

Google is anything but apologetic. It doesn't believe it is doing anything wrong. Here are their reasons why:

  1. Privacy - Since the photos are not live, they are taken in a public space, faces and number plates are blurred out and house owners have the right to request that their house image is removed from Street View, Google believes it is not infringing on people's privacy.
  2. Security - Besides the pictures being more than a year old, any criminal could walk down a street and view the same house details without breaking any laws. Criminals use mobile phones and cars to help them commit their crimes, so should we ban mobiles and cars? Why should maps be different?
  3. Consultation - There is nothing in law that requires anyone to get permission to take photos in a public space. Also, Google consulted with all the relevant UK authorities (including security and police departments) and got given the green light.
  4. Googlization - Google believes it is popular because it offers useful products and services for millions of people. Google's motto is to "do no evil" and its vision is to make all knowledge freely available to everyone on the planet. It also has ambitious plans to make renewables cheaper than fossil fuels. Is this the picture of a monster?

What are the CSR Implications?

This all raises fascinating questions for CSR, for example:

  • Legal Compliance - Google is not doing anything illegal, but CSR is about going beyond the law. What does "beyond compliance" mean in this instance? Does giving house-owners the choice to remove their images go far enough?
  • Transparency - The launch of Street View came as a surprise (a shock even!) to most people in Britain. Where was the public information, let alone consultation, in the lead-up to the launch? Would there have been less reaction if the public was made more aware?
  • Governance - Do companies need to consult stakeholders individually on every issue (surely this is impossible)? If the government is meant to represent the public, is it enough for companies to consult government agencies? Would it have worked better if other stakeholder groups were consulted?
  •  Power - At what point does corporate power and influence become dangerous? Google is providing vast free-to-the-public knowledge resources, but at the same time we are placing increasing reliance on one corporation to look after our personal details and private documentation. Isn't this risky?
  • Demand - Isn't it hypocritical to demand that Google change, when consumers are clearly demanding and enjoying their services? Surely a public harm would need to be clearly demonstrated (the equivalent of poor labour conditions for low-cost retailers, or health risks for fast-food chains)? Even then, government intervention is difficult in the face of widespread public support.

Google seems content to ride out the public mini-storm, confident that Street View will survive and thrive on its own merits, as it has done in America and elsewhere. But there seem to be some clear CSR lessons they could learn about consultation, transparency and increasingly worrying perceptions of their "Big Brother" mantle.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I have now joined the future

This is a green post. It is recycled from my reporting blog. It's a sort of lighter version of Wayne's excellent analysis of the REAL future of Codes and Standards, though it was actually written before i know that the future would feature in both posts it is:

Guess what ! I have now officially become a member of the future.

I participated yesterday in what was for me a very futuristic experience - yes - you guessed .. a WEBINAR!! I like to think i am a computer-literate techie sort of person, but to date, I have resisted all these millions of webinars and things, mainly because of the hassle factor (getting hooked up), the earphones factor (flat ears) , the poor connection factor (crackles, buzzes and beeps) and the half-sentence factor ( hello, welcome to.................. today............will discuss .................important to note that ....................very significant as you can see on slide 3 that....................) . But the temptation of hearing code-guru Deborah Leipziger was too great to resist. So, albeit a little late (10 yr old daughter needed mom to buy her hundreds of $$$$$ of clothes for her birthday party at the weekend), I accepted the CSR International invitation to join the first in the impressive line-up of webinar events scheduled until the end of 2009 (this is great forward planning - unlike my local culture where planning more than 3 hours ahead causes chronic migraine)

Deborah Leipziger is the first lady of corporate, industry and cause-related codes of conduct and ethical standards. Her Code Book created order and understanding of the relevance and importance of framing conduct expectations and existing best practices. A sort of Code Bible. Amen.

How is this connected to Reporting ? No CSR report today is complete without reference to a Code of Conduct and in many cases, declaration of a string of external codes that the corporation adopts. My guess is that on average, companies have about 5 or more different codes they try to observe in their businesses.

A quick look at some CSR reports proves me mainly right:

  • ExxonMobil 2007: corporate code(s) of conduct , global responsible care charter, global compact, voluntary Principles on Security and human Rights, millenium development goals, ILO convention on Indigenous peoples
  • Westpac Banking Corp 2008 : UNPRI, principles for doing business, Equator Principles, ASX principles on Good Corporate Governance, sustainable supply chain managment code of conduct, GRI, UNEP Finance Initiative, CEO Water Mandate
  • Sony 2008: Sony Group code of conduct, EICC code of conduct (only 2 ? did i miss a few?)
  • Diageo 2008: Global compact, Dublin Principles, Business charter for sustainable development, CEO Water Mandate, internal codes of ethics, GRI

The harmonization of codes was one point raised in the discussion - though a key part of the value of the Code is the process by which it was created. So maybe we need lots of processes but less codes ?

Anyway, back to the view from the top - few insights from the guru:

  • ISO 26000 is not cutting-edge but it is broad and covers most of the range of CSR issues . It is right to go the guideline route and not the certification route, though certification at a national level in local language could be an opportunity. Some national certification bodies are already starting to consider its use - Portugal and Denmark for instance.
  • Sectorialization is becoming more popular and useful as a tool for different industries such as the electronics industry, automotives, forestry, financial sector tools such as the Equator Principles.
  • Training is essential to ensure application and assimilation of codes - this is often underestimated
  • Impact analysis including gathering of base line data is often overlooked but is an important tool in understanding both the effectiveness of the code and the unintended consequences of implementation.
In response to my question, What about a code of conduct for CSR professionals or are we exempt? there was a knowing smile and an admission that the cobbler forgot to make himself a pair of shoes, or whatever the saying is. There was the question of how do you define a CSR professional . Right now, as long as its polite, I dont mind. :-)
Anyway, i have to end this blog post now as i have to go off and write another code....
Thanks to Deborah and to Wayne Visser, CSRI founder and webinar maestro

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at: !

The Future of CSR Codes and Standards

Reposted from the primary CSR International Blog:

csr_codebookYesterday, we had an excellent webinar with Deborah Leipziger, author of "The Corporate Responsibility Code Book" and "SA 8000". It got me thinking about the future of CSR codes and standards, and if indeed they have a future. In this piece, I look at the lessons we have learned so far (both positive and negative) and what part CSR codes and standards play in an emerging New Governance model.

Positive Lessons

Let me start with what I think we've learned about CSR codes and standards over the past 30 years or so.

  1. Codes can be a useful activist tool - One of the first CSR codes was the Sullivan Principles, launched by Reverend Leon Sullivan in 1977 to give companies operating in apartheid South Africa a code of ethics. Another example is the CERES Principles, launched in 1989 as the Valdez Principles after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Both these CSR codes can claim their fair share of success in shifting awareness and behaviour.
  2. Codes can help to generate consensus - The benefit of CSR codes and standards like the ICC Business Charter for Sustainable Development (1992), the UN Global Compact (2000) and arguably the forthcoming ISO 26000 (2010) is that they create a common language and set of principles that broad constituents of companies feel comfortable with and can commit to voluntarily. Their effectiveness at changing behaviour is questionable.
  3. Codes can embed incremental improvement - What CSR codes and standards like EMAS (1993), ISO 14001 (1996) and OHSAS 18001 (1999) have shown is that process-standards are extremely effective in bringing about continuous improvement in organisations and bringing CSR issues like environment, health and safety closer to the operational management of companies. Often change is slow and patchy however.
  4. Codes can change industry sectors - Some of the most effective CSR codes and standards have been industry- or sector-based, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (1993), the Kimberly Process (2003) and the Equator Principles (2003). Their strength lies in changing the rules of the game for an entire sector, which eliminates first-mover disadvantage. They also enjoy a common language and high relevance.

Negative Lessons

There are also downsides to CSR codes and standards, which we have come to realise.

  1. Codes create auditing and reporting fatigue - Speak to anyone in business and they will complain about how much time and expense CSR audits and reports are costing them. They have a point, since the proliferation of CSR codes and standards (there are over 100 in "The A to Z of CSR" book that I co-edited) usually each have their own certification and disclosure requirements, despite considerable overlap.
  2. Codes create confusion in the market - The excess number of CSR codes and standards creates noise in the mind of the customer and the financial analyst. If a company has ISO 14001 but is not a signatory to the CERES principles, is that good or bad? What is the difference between FSC and Rainforest Alliance certification? Confusion in turn creates distrust, which is ironically what CSR codes and standards are trying to build.
  3. Codes can be a mask for irresponsibility - When we look at the collapse of Enron and Worldcom, the current banking crisis, or the reluctance of oil companies to go renewable, it is absolutely clear that CSR codes and standards (which all these companies had or have) can often mask a deeper unsustainable business model or irresponsible corporate culture. Despite genuine efforts by CSR departments, their activity remains marginal.
  4. Codes are no substitute for regulation - The voluntary nature of CSR codes and standards means that they will inevitably only apply to the progressive few, and even those may choose to dilute their commitments during financial hard times, or hide behind the "lack of teeth" (i.e. sanction) in most CSR codes. Voluntary action is hardly ever effective in properly internalising externality impacts or creating widespread change.

Future Prospects

With the usual caveats that the future is unpredictable, it does seem to me that there are several trends in CSR codes and standards that indicate the direction of their evolution.

  • Principle-based codes will consolidate - The great victory of the past 20 years has been the increasing consensus on what CSR principles should underscore business activities. We can expect a few of the principle-based CSR codes (like the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative) to win through and the rest to wither away, or become marginal actors for big business.
  • Process-based codes will struggle - The markets for process-based standards like ISO 14001 will continue to grow in developing countries, but quickly reach saturation point, as they have done in the developed world. The reason is that incremental improvement can only get you so far and then you need systemic change, which requires changes in the market structure or the policy framework.
  • Performance-based codes will strengthen - Companies will come under increasing pressure to demonstrate their CSR performance in absolute, measurable terms (since process-based codes have essentially failed to solve our global problems). Hence, CSR codes like SA 8000 and emerging standards around carbon emissions will be in higher demand and more trusted.
  • Sector-, product-, issue- and geography-based codes will expand - We can expect to continue to build on the progress and relative success of specific CSR codes and standards (as opposed to generic principles), whether they be for a specific sector (e.g. pharmaceuticals), product (e.g. palm oil), issue (e.g. water) or geography (e.g. China). They will be an elaboration of the generic codes, applied to a specific, actionable context.

A New Governance

My fundamental belief is that CSR codes and standards will not disappear, because they form part of an emerging new form of governance, based on a multi-stakeholder approach. They will not be a substitute for legislation (as many from business hoped over the past 20 years), but rather a complimentary mechanism for delivering change. Nor will they be the panacea for the world's problems, but rather an important piece in the jigsaw of solutions.

Behind this question of governance is the crisis in institutional confidence, i.e. the lack of trust by the public in the major institutions of society, including both government and business. Even NGOs are under increasing scrutiny and will see great pressure to demonstrate accountability. CSR codes and standards, if designed and implemented well, can help to bridge the trust-gap. If done poorly, they will only widen and deepen the chasm.

The secret, I believe, is not in the "what" but the "how" of CSR codes and standards, i.e. less about the content (what the code says) and more about the participative process through which they are created; less about the signatories and more about the ways the codes are implemented among the workforces and communities in which companies operate. In a nutshell, CSR codes and standards of the future will be less about words and more about actions.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

100 Best Companies Ranking Gets It Right

The 100 Best Companies 2009 ranking (UK) caught my eye on Sunday and I was surprised to find myself overcoming my usual cynacism and scepticism about indexes and rankings.

I am less inclined to comment about the actual results - see the link at the end of this post if you’re dying to know - and more interested in the design. It seems to me, this list got a few critical things right:

  1. Not the usual suspects - It was refreshing to see most of the names on the list were not the big-brand, household names that tend to crop up over and over on many of the other CSR-type rankings. In particular, many are small and medium-sized companies, which often get overlooked.
  2. A holistic approach - Although very employee-focused, the categories on which companies are assessed seem to present a balanced picture of what sustainable and responsible companies should be striving for. They include for example: leadership, personal growth, wellbeing, giving something back and fairness.
  3. A stakeholder perspective - Unlike so many CSR rankings which rely on either reported (PR-shaped) performance or questionnaires filled in by single managers, Best Companies uses employee surveys and even site visits to obtain a more representative picture.
  4. Different lenses of analysis - The list is easily sortable online into ranks according to the various categories, as well as some sub-categories (like Greenest company and best Work/Life balance).

I should add a caveat. These kind of lists are no guarantee of responsibility and sustainability, as Enron demonstrated spectacularly - it was one of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America - just a year before their total lack of ethics was revealed and they imploded shamefully.

That being said, any system which encourages corporate assessment on a broader set of metrics than financials is, in my view, worth giving some credit. And especially those, like the Best Companies, that make a brave effort to measure intangibles like return on human capital investment.




Sunday, March 8, 2009

CSR is dead ... Long live CSR

For those who didn't already see this on the new CSR International website, here is the press release about last week's launch event. Note: You can now also follow the blog on

On Wednesday (4 March), a funeral service was held in London to commemorate the life of ‘Old CSR’ (known to many as Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR 1.0), who passed away peacefully in his sleep, another unfortunate victim of the global financial crisis.

After the coffin was respectfully laid down at The Hub Kings Cross, Dr Wayne Visser, Founder and CEO of CSR International, paid tribute to “a life well lived” and “a pioneer in his time”:

“Old CSR was a good person at heart, always willing to give to those in need. Some will remember him for his outlandish dress style – how he always loved to dress in green and show off – but that was part of his charm. We will miss him dearly, not least because he touched the lives of so many around the world. He leaves behind baby daughter.”

Visser’s eulogy was followed by touching tributes from friends and colleagues, who each lit a candle in his memory. In the respectful hush that followed, an unexpected baby’s cry was heard, which seemed to be coming from the coffin. Tentatively, the cloth draped over the coffin was removed, only to reveal a tiny crib with a new-born baby.

As the lights went up, flowers were handed out by Ms Clemence Viel and minstrel Mr Lenny Charles launched into a festive tune on the berimbau, Visser conducte a spontaneous naming and blessing ceremony:

“Some of you may be wondering who this innocent child is. Well, I just happen to know that it is none other than Old CSR’s daughter, who with his dying breaths, he named CSR 2.0. She brings hope to our troubled world, for as the ‘new CSR’ of ‘Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility’, her life will be inspired by new world the principles of Connectivity, Scaleability and Responsiveness.”

After bestowing his blessing, a few friends came forward, each holding a bright flower, and spoke of their hopes and wishes for CSR 2.0.

Tributes also poured in from those around the world who could not be there in person, but who attended the live web broadcast of event or sent their good wishes ahead. Among these was John Elkington, Founder Director of SustainAbility and Volans and a good friend of Old CSR over the years:

“The theme of Death and Rebirth is timely. We have just completed some work that begins to map out what we call the ‘Phoenix Economy’, a new order that is struggling to rise from the rubble and ashes of the old. CSR 2.0 will be a necessary condition for success.  We wish CSR International every success.”

As guests left the CSR International launch event, many were smiling – some bemused, some amused, but most hopeful, having just witnessed the birth of a new era of Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility. CSR is dead … long live CSR!

Friday, March 6, 2009

CSR or another label: Who cares?

Some people get very excited about what label you use to describe the role of business in society. Should it be corporate socialresponsibility, or just corporate responsibility, or maybe business (social) responsibility? What about corporate citizenship or corporate accountability? Maybe sustainable development or corporate sustainability or just sustainability? Social enterprise or sustainable business? On and on the debate rages … or rather, whimpers.

As someone who is about to launch a new variation - corporate sustainability & responsibility or CSR 2.0 - of an old label - corporate social responsibility or just plain CSR - I feel I should make my position clear on the battle of the labels. To borrow from Gone With the Wind, “Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Which is not to say that labels don’t tell us something. They can be quite instructive.

For example, corporate social responsibility indicates the strong philanthropic roots of CSR, going back to the late 1800s, with benefactors like Rockerfeller and Cadbury giving business responsibility a distinctly social flavour. On the other hand, corporate sustainability, which grew out of the Rio Earth Summit, still struggles to shake off its environmental tinge, despite John Elkington’s best efforts at rebranding it as a “triple bottom line”.

Likewise, my concept of CSR 2.0 is trying to say something - notably that the old CSR as philanthropy, public relations, voluntary action and incremental improvement is no longer adequate (if ever it was) to the challenges the world faces, be they persistant poverty, climate change or rampant corruption. The old version - 1.0 - is obselete, and the new version - 2.0 - is still in the “beta testing phase”, to use Web 2.0 jargon.

Another thing I’m trying to signal by rebranding CSR as Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility is that we should concede that there are only really two label-games in town - corporate responsibility and corporate sustainability. You only need to look at companies’ non-financial reports to see this. So rather than keep up the ding-dong battle for who’s best, why not simply combine the two, and keep the acronym CSR, which slips easily off the tongue.

That’s the kind of transformative and integrated CSR we’re aiming for at CSR International. But far more important than the label are the principles behind the name. Is business’s response simply more tinkering at the edges, or does it create scalable solutions to our global challenges? Is business really listening to its stakeholders, or do they get short shrift when the economic going gets tough?

So pick whatever label you most fancy, or none at all if you like. But promise me that whatever your choice, you will not let companies hide behind the label and pretend that a few well-meaning donations, or marginal improvements in energy efficiency, or meeting minimum labour conditions makes them a serious part of the solution. As Muhammad Yunus said to me in an interview last year, that doesn’t give them “the right to be remembered”.

He went on to say that it is only when we change the world - when we change people’s lives for the better - that we have a right to put our signature on this planet. These are the sort of values, principles and results by which any CSR or alternative label should be judged. I only hope that in 10 years time, CSR 2.0 will have lived up to this challenge and give us all the right to speak with confidence about the contribution of CSR, rather than have to apologise for its continued failure.