Monday, January 24, 2011

Redefining CSR

[An extract from Chapter 1 of The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business by Wayne Visser]

Responsibility is the choice we make to respond with care. This book, then, is a way of taking stock. What choices have we made – in the way we live our lives, in the way we do our work and in the way we run our businesses? How have we responded to the needs of our day – especially the social, environmental and ethical crises we face? And have our actions been taken with care – have we cared about our impacts on others?

I must admit to being slightly surprised (and a little dismayed) to find myself, 10 years after my first book, Beyond Reasonable Greed, still singing a similar refrain. I am once again arguing that business needs to ‘shapeshift’, to fundamentally rethink the purpose of business and to put into practice a genuinely sustainable and responsible ethos. There are fundamental differences though. Today, many of the problems are worse, more urgent and backed by more solid scientific evidence. In the interim, there has been a geopolitical shift away from the West, with the potential for more questioning of neoliberal economics and shareholder-driven capitalism. There are also more corporate corpses on the slab, allowing us to examine the nature of our greed disease. At the same time, awareness about our public social and environmental crises is much higher, and there are more genuine corporate sustainability and responsibility pioneers that provide living proof of what health and wellbeing could mean for business and society.

The fact is that now we know better what bad corporate magic looks like and the devastating consequences of practicing it. But we also know that magic spells can be broken by revealing the sleight of hand at work. It is my hope that by sharing some of the insights gained from the past 20 years of CSR wonder and trickery, we can move beyond magic to real responsibility – responsibility of the kind that makes a tangible, positive, sustained impact on the lives of the world’s poor and excluded and that visibly turns the tide on our wholesale destruction of ecosystems and species.

But I am getting ahead of myself. First let me say what I understand by CSR. I take CSR to stand for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, rather than Corporate Social Responsibility, but feel free use whichever proxy label you are most comfortable with. My definition is as follows: CSR is the way in which business consistently creates shared value in society through economic development, good governance, stakeholder responsiveness and environmental improvement.

Put another way, CSR is an integrated, systemic approach by business that builds, rather than erodes or destroys, economic, social, human and natural capital.

Given this understanding, my usual starting point for any discussion on CSR is to argue that it has failed. I will provide the data and arguments to back up this audacious claim in the paragraphs, pages and chapters that follow. ...

This is an extract from Chapter 1 of The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business
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Copyright 2010 Wayne Visser