Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Three Curses of CSR: Curse 3 - Uneconomic Role

Curse 3: Uneconomic CSR

If there was ever a monotonously repetitive, stuck record in CSR debates, it is the one about the so-called ‘business case’ for CSR.

That is because CSR managers and consultants, and even the occasional saintly CEO, are desperate to find compelling evidence that ‘doing good is good for business’, i.e. CSR pays! And indeed, the lack of sympathetic research seems to be no impediment for these desperados endlessly incanting the motto of the business case, as if it were an entirely self-evident fact.

The rather more ‘inconvenient truth’ is that CSR sometimes pays, in specific circumstances, but more often does not. Of course there are low-hanging fruit – like eco-efficiencies around waste and energy – but these only go so far.

Most of the hard-core CSR changes that are needed to reverse the misery of poverty and the sixth mass extinction of species currently underway require strategic change and massive investment. They may very well be lucrative in the long term, economically rational over a generation or two, but we have already established that the financial markets don’t work like that; at least, not yet.