As much as we (PR people) would love it, PR does not ‘own’ CSR. CSR is, or at least in order to be effective should be, core of the business strategy. CSR is the way a company manages and communicates (PR’s job) its impact on society and the environment.
The way companies practice CSR has changed over the past decades; back in the 70s CSR was about philanthropy and what a business could do with some of the money it had to spare. This included supporting the arts or giving to the local community. Later, there was a shift of thinking and companies started to act more strategically considering results and outcomes and how they could invest in society.
CSR as we know it today is about how companies manage their business processes in order to maximise their positive impact on society while at the same time minimising any negative impact whether that is economic, social or environmental. However, one cannot deny the fact that at the end of the day, it is all about how businesses can operate profitably within this role.
Companies are now forced to act responsibly against society and this can be attributed to many factors like globalisation, the turmoil in financial markets, technological changes, scarcity of resources and many more. Companies have a great impact on society and in this globalised world this has become an increasing focus for activists. This is why companies today, have global standards to manage their risks (even though these are sometimes not enforced as we have witnessed) which include procedures, human rights acts and even determine how companies report on CSR.
Sustainability, the latest evolution of CSR looks into the future of business and society and tries to find mutually beneficial solutions to plan for future challenges. So why does sustainability matter to businesses? Well, first, it can improve a company’s reputation both externally and internally. Second, it can bring awards and ultimately it will make the company more profitable.
Sustainability can mean a lot of things for companies like:
- Managing resources wisely
- Demonstrating leadership
- Being clear in corporate values and governance
- Giving short term needs a long term value
- Managing change responsibly
- Employee engagement
- Preparing for future low carbon economy
- Supporting the communities from which they employ, trade and purchase
- Securing the supply chain
Another point to mention is that CSR is complex and diverse. There are different ways in which companies implement CSR programmes and these usually depend on how a company’s products or services overlap with society and where societal needs meet business opportunities or responsibilities. Companies need to have CSR programmes that apply the company’s specific resources to help with world issues. Also, CSR programmes are flexible and they adapt according to environmental changes or pressures.
The bottom line is that to be successful, CSR has to be embedded in all activities of the company and every employee should be involved in it. CSR should be part of the mix which includes strategy, product development, marketing, finance, HR and management. When CSR is created for PR purposes only, then it becomes greenwashing and spin.