How my “stop pretending!” attitude turned into “stop pretending?”

Part One: STOP PRETENDING!

CSR is not black or white. CSR is gray, it exists in various shades of gray. But companies should choose one distinct color, be either one, but at least be something. To cite a famous cigarette brand´s campaign: Don´t be a maybe

If CSR is not part of your business model, you should not pretend it to be so. Figure out another way to increase profit, or to compensate for the lack of CSR. But do not lie for commercial benefits! Seriously – when did BP and McDonalds care about sustainability? I mean the unofficial truth not the official one used for marketing purposes.

We fool ourselves when we say the implementation of a CSR department in almost every more or less well known company will change something, right? Many consumers feel this way. CSR is mainstream nowadays. That´s what I have pointed out last week. And that´s my personal point of view up until now. I tried to figure out what might be positive about CSR, and how it can actually benefit society. Admittedly, it was not that easy to find people who have a positive perspective on CSR.

Not only consumers but also professors feel the way I do, so that´s what gave me even more confirmation in my opinion. In her article Corporate social responsibility: what’s it worth? Kate Hilpern quotes a cynical view on CSR from Anja Schaefer, senior lecturer in management at the Open University Business School:  

“Unfortunately for many big commercial organisations CSR has become just another marketing tactic, making many people wary of the genuineness of it.”

So as I kept on researching, trying to find people who are fond of CSR, it did not get any better. CSR´s reputation is extremely damaged, especially among bloggers (this one for instance has nothing good to say about CSR). It was a hard way to come to this point eventually, and to reveal the advantages of CSR, but I got there.

Part two: STOP PRETENDING?

How? I soon had to realize that it is the approach when looking for something that matters. Find the right approach, and you will find a variety of opinions! The key question here was: What if CSR is no longer just an option – but a compulsion? A must-have? Nowadays, nobody can afford to ignore CSR anymore or even run away from it, it has become part of the business. This insight brought me to a whole new level as depicted in the following.

So first I found out: having the wrong purpose does not bother everybody. If it benefits all, then some people are mostly in favor of CSR departments. No company can any longer afford unethical behavior and CSR has become popular, although some critics consider its importance as rather minor to business and sustainability.

But that cannot be the whole story, there is always another truth to it. Mutually benefitting from each other, that´s what CSR is about. So finally I got some people who do not underestimate the power of CSR. First a blogger, Angel Kwong who affirms after having described the effects of CSR on both companies and stakeholders:

“I think CSR is becoming a trend nowadays. Companies may need to sacrifice something for the well-being of the public and the community. In long term, however, the companies will benefit from what they did. I believe CSR can help the companies themselves and the whole world to have a sustainable development. “

The blogger Foodem also is in favor of CSR, explaining how the entire system functions and what the outcome of a good CSR policy is, namely benefits. These benefits are not solely for the company´s stakeholders but also for itself. Otherwise: why would a company adopt a CSR policy, right? So here´s Foodem´s point (who concentrates more on the B2B level in the food industry):

“We’ve talked about corporate social responsibility (CSR) here before. We know CSR is a significant driver of brand value. Anyone in the food business or involved in food distribution who has been in business for a while knows: brand value is a big deal.”

Both have particularly one point in common: mutually benefitting from each other when interacting within the CSR frame. CSR enhances the circumstances not only for its stakeholders but also for itself. This should even motivate the company to adopt a CSR policy and to ameliorate it continuously. CSR gives a lot of space to evolve, and cannot be as bad as its reputation.

So today´s insight would have to be: You simply can´t say CSR is all bad. All in all, it is unrealistic to expect a company to behave totally altruistic, disregarding its own advantages from CSR. That aspect certainly has to be considered before simply saying that CSR is marketing only. But there is a lot more to discuss! So next week, I will focus more on if and if yes on how CSR can really change a company!

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