CSR or window dressing?

February 15, 2010 at 11:45 pm (Public Relations) (, , )

The debate was very interesting. There are so many good examples of CSR (corporate social responsibility) out there.  If it’s done right, it is undoubtedly useful.
So I had a difficult time looking for proof that CSR is wrong or can go wrong.
During my debate I was aiming at drawing attention to the mismatches between CSR programs and the companies that do them. This is just a matter of looking at the CSR program from the outside. It is probably common sense that a polluting industry should be low key about environmental issues unless they are willing to make a real change which would cost them a lot and require fundamental steps. This came to me from the Honda example which is also mentioned in the article linked here.
Of course the HSBC carbon emissions example shows that aligning with a cause that has little do to with them, seems like a safe option but it can backfire just as easily. Especially in this economic climate with the recession going on and many people are suffering from the credit crunch. I do think that climate change needs to be addressed, but there  needs to be balance between imminent problems and more long term ones.
Essentially environmental initiatives can only be funded in a (at least) stable economic status. So in a sense by solving the more urgent problem it can give a better chance at solving the long term one.

It is an interesting article about when CSR goes badly wrong:

Companies Who Care? Jess Worth New Internationalist

The other side, who argued that CSR is useful and honest brought up examples of companies essentially lifting up entire communities through their program. They bring infrastructure, education and jobs to people. It is a very good start but then the people need to take over, build on it.

CSR is only as good, as much honesty, motivation and resources are put into them. By resources I don’t necessarily mean money, but – where appropriate- by encouraging employees to volunteer some of their time to good causes.  It not just brings the cause close to them on a personal level, but it is great team building (and great internal PR) opportunity. During one of my internships my colleagues took me along to some of these volunteering programs. The opportunities are endless, from helping rebuild a bird wildlife education center in the middle of the countryside, or doing huge concerts to visiting the elderly homes or ill children for the day.

CSR has so many potentials to make real difference in a small way definitely and not turn into just window dressing.

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