Doing Good for Business' Sake

Article excerpt

YOU CANT ESCAPE IT. It seems like every day, another company launches an official corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy with a matching website and a barrage of press releases touting its good deeds. But even with the best intentions, all diose projects and programs will only have an impact if they're linked to the corporate strategy. And executives better drive the efforts throughout the company-right down to the supply chain.

Nodiing quite so comprehensive is happening yet, however.

"Very few companies do that," says Daniel Franklin, executive editor at The Economist, London, England. "But it's the ultimate aspiration of CSR-that it be embedded in the operations of the company."

Still, with growing demand for greater social accountability, companies have no choice but to embrace CSR as a business strategy, says JefFHittner, CSR leader for IBM Global Business Services, New York, New York, USA.

"[CSR] programs are no longer a defense play," he explains. "Companies today realize that CSR is a necessary market play for the long haul."

In their report, Attaining Sustainable Growth Through Corporate Social Responsibility, Mr. Hittner and his team found that 68 percent of the 250 global business leaders surveyed said they were focusing on CSR activities to create new revenue streams. And 54 percent reported their CSR activities are giving them an advantage over their top competitors.

"Companies are aligning their core values with global social and environmental issues to identify new competitive opportunities," Mr. Hittner says.

DOWN THE LINE

At this point, though, not everyone is convinced of the ROI of CSR. "Investing in sustainability and CSR doesn't seem to harm businesses, but there is no clear evidence yet that it will improve the business either," says Mr. Franklin.

Part of the problem is a lack of adequate reporting and measurement, according to Doing Good: Business and the Sustainability Challenge, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit released in February. Only 22 percent of 1,200 global executives surveyed in September and October of 2007 said their firms formally measure the social, financial and environmental impacts of CSR programs. However, 40 percent of those surveyed said they plan to adopt these measures as part of their CSR efforts within five years.

"No one today does measurement well," Mr. Franklin says. But as companies try to define their sustainability and CSR goals more clearly and push them down through the organization and supply chain, he anticipates metrics will become a bigger part of CSR initiatives.

Of course, integrating CSR into the supply chain is a difficult proposition, particularly for companies that outsource projects around the world. But enforcing CSR values throughout the business is critical to supporting brand identity and integrity. With so many non-governmental organizations monitoring big businesses' practices, and the internet enabling easy sharing of information and images, it's just a matter of time before the world will find out if someone in the supply chain is breaking the rules, Mr. …