CSR is about focusing on the little things

It seems odd that when corporations show their commitment to society through CSR they get the most out of doing something about the little things. Companies that are successful looks at what they do well and tries to figures out how this impact communities that they are active in, in ways they could not imagine if they did not have the tools provided though CSR.

When reviewing the many definitions of CSR that is out there it gives little or no clue how actually to conduct social responsibility. It would seem that if one just followed conventional wisdom it would be hard if not impossible to satisfy even the simplest requirements given by all these different classifications.

“The Social Responsibility refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.” Bowen, 1953 in Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, which commonly regarded as the first milestone in modern CSR research and practice.

Another more modern definition have been issued by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) through their guidance on social responsibility “Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.”

Both of these very fine definitions give little or no clue to what companies should actually do to both successful in terms of profit, development and continued competitive advantage, and at the same time being in tune with societies moral compass.

But some companies have actually done quite well trying to combine their CSR with their core business. Just to give a few examples.

Danish Novo Nordisk has committed themselves to the task of “Changing diabetes” and have successfully introduced new products like Victoza inline with their core mission statement

The Swedish fashion company, H&M have under the statement “Conscious” has with worked to create sustainable fashion through a comprehensive CSR system that reduce risks in their supply chain.

Vivendi, the French telecom company, have initiated a program that promotes the safe use of the Internet to youth.

All of these initiatives are small when it comes to the efforts that the company needs to put into them because it is embedded in the “what we do” part of their business, but even so that have a huge impact on their outreach to the communities they are active in.

So even though it would seem that these successful companies are focusing on the “little things” they do represent a significant societal impact exactly for that reason.

Clean safe water build societies

Česky: Pitná voda - kohoutek Español: Agua potable

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Help build resources for a clean water supply through helping water projects like the Charitywater project in Rwanda. Clean water is key to building societies and at this point it is not going in the right direction.

The rate of improvement in access to safe drinking water has long been in decline; the percentage of the world population with access to safe drinking water rose by 11.1% between 1970 and 1975 but grew by only 2.4% between 2000 and 2006.

Within the next half-century, access to safe drinking water may fall below the level of 1977, when the international community launched its first attempt to increase access to safe drinking water.1

The lack of access to safe drinking water is likely to impinge upon economic growth by 2050,if not earlier.

The emerging economies are expected to be the first to suffer from a decline in access to safe drinking water.

Because the emerging economies are an important engine for world economic growth, the impact on those economies’ performance is likely to have wider implications for the global economy.

Industry, governments and supranational agencies have an important role to play in conserving and increasing the supply of potential safe drinking water.

Water purification at the point of use is expected to make a major contribution in increasing access to safe drinking water around the world.

Clean water saves lives and builds society.

It is the secondary effect that is central

When working with CSR we like to believe that there is a cause effect relationship between the activities that we engage in and the results we can measure. But we often overlook that it is the secondary results that represent our greatest achievements.

Most organisations look at the direct effects of communication technology like CSR systems and efforts to introduce sustainable technologies with a communication component. There is no doubt that there persist other perspectives on how organisations can achieve sustainable business development but in all cases is the communication part central. To illustrate one can look at CSR as part of the branding strategy of companies that in order to boost their image advocate their products as green or sustainable. This I will characterise as a 1st order communication strategy like a cause-effect system of meaning.


We can look at communication technology like CSR as “what management wants”. This can be decentralisation into global teams, working from home systems or technologies that enable projects to work cross boarders. The common denominator for these communication technologies is that they enable people to process more data more efficiently or/and with greater ease. However it is often the side effects or secondary effects of the introduction of a CSR systems approach that have the greatest impact on business development, an effect that is often ignored or underestimated in the original prospect. So what management wants is often not what management really gets because the secondary effects outweigh the first order ones.

So what does management need to look out for when implementing a new technology, like CSR. First of all one should not underestimate the effect of cultural changes. Organisations cant implement a new technology without assuming that people will do their tasks differently meaning that they will use or at least relate to the introduction of this new process that is presented. They do not have to embrace CSR but the presence of systems that coerce employees to relate to something than them selves will force a cultural change no mater what. One could say that CSR questions the status quo forcing employees to ask themselves; “who are we as and organisation and how do we interact with people outside”.

Another effect closely related to cultural change is the raise of new types of conflicts. When people question their own ethics they will natural also question the ethics of their fellow employees. This give raise to conflicts that relate to our understanding of the consequences of how we interact and do business with customers or other stakeholders. Are we really doing good? Or are we only doing well? Just look at the banking sector that for a long time did not ask these fundamental questions, but almost exclusively used CSR as a means create a image of “goodness”. But when the ethics were questioned an internal conflict erupted questioning the very fabric of what the business was all about which was mainly grounded in CSR or Ethical framework of understanding.

Lesson is that when starting on the path of CSR it is not only that directly related effects of the system that one needs to take into account of, but also the changes that comes with thinking differently about the organisation. If you ask the organisational members to think (and I mean really think) about the consequences of their actions one should take this into account when embracing a technology. CSR asks employees to think and react to consequences of the actions. So be prepared to embrace rather their input rather than only thinking of CSR as a way create a better image of the organisation to outside stakeholders.


Videos on three areas of sustainability

The struggle for a better environment and a place for all of us to live.

A video on anti-corruption and not least some of the most hidden aspects of how it affects our lives I think it is a great interpretation by Saudi Arabian students. Thanks

Remembering that fraud also have many faces and that just because it is wrapped in a nice looking package it is still cheating and lying creating a asymmetric system of knowledge.

Amazon maps the US green movement

Amazon have made a survey of purchases across the US and have found that some places are more environmental aware than others. Using its sales figures Amazon has found out which states are purchasing the most environmentally friendly products. The study showed that California, New Hampshire, and Vermont are the places that purchase the most sustainable products across all categories, compared to the national average.

The analysis also looked at Water conservation, Energy savings, Organic foods and Green Parenting. Based on purchases of environmental books, Vermont, Montana, and Washington, DC residents top our list of Most Well-Read Environmentalists. On a local level, Missoula, Montana residents just might be way more environmentally knowledgeable than the rest, with well over five times the national average of environmental book purchases.

Acording to Amazon they see the analysis as evidence that”The regionality of Amazon’s maps is evidence against the tendency to think of the Internet as an enabler of irresponsible, far-flung purchases. Yes, the Internet does make it possible for people to buy extravagant things from exotic places. But it also makes it easier for people to find things they need to live greener lives at home. And that’s what Amazon’s customers are doing, wherever their home happens to be.”

At least I found the evidence interesting even though that the internet has made the world more flat and that we have become victims of our own consumerism. You can judge for your self.

Different but still the same

This is the time for annual reporting and by that also comes all the nonfinancial statements. CSR reports are being produced which in principle should give all of us a insight into how the organizations are doing on Environmental, Social and Governance issues. But after I have been going through about a dozen it dawns on me that even though I’m all for standardization and systems etc. the reports isn’t really telling me anything.

It is almost as if the CSR reporting from all the big companies around are being produced by the same person(s).

For example these example from Eriksson

“Reducing our own environmental impact and that of our products is an important part of Ericsson‘s sustainability focus.  Ericsson is on track with the Group target to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent over five years (2009-2013).”

Or A.M.Møller-Maersk

“Our largest business unit and contributor to our carbon footprint, Maersk line, have set an ambitious goal of a 20% reduction of Co2 per container transported by 2017. We will reach our goal through efficient operations and technological innovation.”

Or Danisco

“We have reduced environmental impacts at our manufacturing sites since 2007 by: 21% Energy, 15% for C02, 30% for water.”

My question is now. These are all activities which show that these companies can do stuff so what is the impact of all these activities? They are no were to be found which means that these companies are very active reducing their emissions but have no idea why or of it really matters.

Just food for thought that when you look at the next report then try to notice if the company have even bothered to investigate what the real impact of their actions are.