Corporate America's Latest Act: Juggling Corporate Social Responsibility

Article excerpt

Today's companies juggle a seemingly endless stream of performance criteria. One of the slipperiest, abd arguablu one of the most challenging, is Corporate Social Responsibility, or "CSR."

It's a concept known by a parade of aliases: corporate citizenship, corporate social involvement, community responsibility and sustainability principle remains the same. Businesses, like individuals, have a serious charge to conduct themselves not just profitably, but honorably - in a way that respects or even improves the communities to which thery belong.

There's nothing new about companies wanting to give back to thier communities through philanthropic support for schools, child-base initiatives, drug-education, meals on wheels or services fro thier employees. What is newhowever is the expectation that compnaies nust also have a "conscience" when making key decisions directly affecting core business operations.

Instead of simply expecting companies to return profit to shareholders, CSR demands that a company serve a much broader audience that includes all its stakeholders - not just investors, but customers, employees and neighbors, including those who live in the communities in which the company operates. In fact, from a global standpoint, all mankind and the planet itself may be expected to be added to the constituency of operational impact.

Noting the CSR trend, Hankamer School of Business Dean Elizabeth Davis explains: "The emergence of CSR as an important governance objective gives businesspeople greater opportunitu to tie corporate commitments. Some businesspeople believe that corporations have no 'business' being involved in citizenry, that it is up to individuals to do good. Others believe they cant', in good conscience, make business decisions without considering the affects those decisions have on society. The issue of CSR can create great discussion on class. I believe we have a responsibility as professors to challenge students to think about these issues now and to draw their own conclusions so that they cam react to such issues from a point of conviction, not in the heat of the moment."

Dr. Kellie McElhaney, John C. Withehead Distinguished Faculty Fellow in cOrporate responsibility at University of California berkeley's Haas Business School, adds that student interest in CSR is strong "CSR is absolutely a subject students are interested in; it ties into their goals. This next generation doesn't want to be IvaN Boesky, but they don't want to be Mother Teresa either. They're not as intersted in extremes. They're interested in marrying social imapct or mission with financial gain."

Luckily, many of today's most forward-thinking companies have the foresight to navigate these issues and are leveraging them with bold new policies. For many this means taking a more holistic inventory of everything the organization is doing: from PR to volunteer efforts, labor negotiations, recycling and carpool programs. In essence, taking filmmaker Spike Lee's advice to "Do The Right Thing."

CSR initiatives are sprouting up in every business sector, in every sized company In a recent survey published by The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, "61 percent of managers from 700 companies interviewed worldwide indicate that their companies produce a contribution/philanthropic report or a social/citizenship report." What's more, 68 percent of large companies in Western Europe and 41 percent of large companies in the U.S. now report on "triple bottom line" information.1

The big four professional services firms are responding to business's growing CSR interest. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu is forming a full time global practice around CSR "We've watched the CSR and sustainability area closely for some time. We've certainly had people working in that area," observes Stephanie Emry, director of external affairs for Deloitte Consulting. "DTT was a founding member of the United Nations Global Compact Initiative. …