A Bird In The Hand

greenwashAny CSR activity is better than nothing.

I’m astounded by those that sit in ivory towers and proclaim that superficial CSR is abhorrent and should be cast asunder. We should always prefer a business to have righteous intentions but sometimes you just have to take what you can get. Some people just don’t know any better. Does that make them the dark lords of capitalism?

For CSR, PR can be the best of times and it can be the worst of times, usually dependant on which side of the equation leads the way but for many it can be the first foray into the world of wider responsibility. For many businesses a superficial approach to CSR can be like a first date; it might be a bit of fun and worth the investment on the night but the real results lie in the more enlightened longer term commitment. Organisations do not climb the developmental ladder in one large step. CSR probably more than any other management concept takes time to be culturally understood, to mature and for most needs to be imperceptibly incremental.

Not one single company on this planet has an ideal approach to responsibility so let’s agree that everybody is at varying stages of imperfection. A business attempting to constantly balance perpetually changing economic, environmental and social issues is acting within a perfectly unstable scenario.

The devil’s greenwasher’s are already scaring many away from trumpeting their own environmental successes for fear of reprisals. Honesty and transparency has never been such a valued commodity. If you’ve achieved a genuinely great success tell people! Somebody will always complain, its human nature (especially in the UK) that doesn’t mean the majority of the audience won’t be impressed, grateful or remember you, especially if your intentions are honourable.

There are a few organisations out there that do manipulate the agenda in Machiavellian type orchestrations and some are easier to identify than others. Oil companies don’t give away $15.5 million unless they don’t have to, ask Shell about Nigeria.

Maybe it’s me alone that sees so much naive CSR throughout the markets and even more so at the smaller end of the business scale, but within that naivety there are literally millions of truly inspiring yet basic initiatives that are tangibly helping those outside of businesses’ main radar. Those who wilfully, knowingly or continually exploit stakeholders or resources deserve any adverse attention they get (anybody fancy a cigarette?).

If you wanted every business that is using CSR superficially to stop, especially naive less aware small and medium sized businesses, you’re going to destroy a substantial amount of benefit being delivered where it’s needed most AND stifle a breeding ground for more meaningful activity down the line. Bad use of CSR can be a great learning experience akin to good customer care dealing with a complaint. It’s up to those who know better to guide those who don’t.

I don’t really care what a businesses’ motives are as long as they are doing something. It’s easier to change these people than those who pig-headedly bury their heads in the sand and do nothing.

4 thoughts on “A Bird In The Hand

  1. Mario Raimondi

    Good topic. I think there is a very thin line in this one and I’ve been questioning it for long.
    I do think that there are a lot of contradictions in the concept of CSR, which is basically trying to convince bussiness people that being decent and having integrity in what you do is actually GOOD. I do see that most of the CSR reports and information are going in this direction, which it is dissapointing too. Do we really need to tell all these grown up people that doing the right thing, being honest, not polluting, be good to your employees, to your community, be aware of your impact and not focus 100% in the profit at any cost is actually good??? Isn’t it obvious? Well, apparently it is not, and that tell us where the main issue is: people are still selfish and don’t see further than their own nose. This is the esence we need to change, the minset that needs to develop to see the issue. Therefore, motivation it is important of course. I don’t agree with your final statement. The intentions of someone doing CSR are important! If you see they just want PR at a particular moment because that’s fashion, it means that in couple of years they would stop doing it, when trends move on. And then, the change we are looking for won’t be there.
    I do agree however, that making isolated CSR actions (specially small and medium bussinesses) should be an opportunity for a learning experience and open doors for the change.

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    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Mario. I thought you might like the post.

      One of the biggest misconceptions about CSR is the difference between the strategy and the implementation, more importantly the middle section, people. CSR to be most effective should have integrity, unfortunately throughout the globe there are millions that only care about profit. Even within those in businesses that we may assume are on the higher moral ground with CSR are either fanatically obsessed with making money or constantly fighting against those around them that couldn’t care less about the environment or society, i.e. accountants, advisors, investors. That’s why such effort is being focused around SRI to come at this from the shareholder perspective, after all they are the eternal scapegoat, allegedly demanding a return (financial) on their investment.
      I do probably have a diifferent perspective because I spend so much time challenging very real small & medium businesses to begin or refine their CSR journey, but the approach does have to be pragmatic, hence my position.
      Your statement about people being selfish is spot on, and we all are in someway, we have to be to survive. The real trouble arrives when you combine selfishness with greed, then you have a potentially catastrophic mixture, as the credit crunch demonstrated.
      I personally think that it’s the uneducated mainstream marketing industry that causes most of the problem by distorting naive enthusiasm from businesses by trying to exaggerate their abilities to justify ridiculous fees.
      Their are many good people out there and CSR is becoming clearer and more defined with age. I see a bright future for those with vision.

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  2. Peter Korchnak

    David,

    I appreciate your bringing up the issue. Corporate CSR efforts tend to be evaluated a lot more closely and judged a lot more harshly than other activities. People tend to want to see perfection, and when they don’t, complaining ensues. Perfection is an ideal, not a goal, I say.

    If you’re a company that started out as non-CSR (sustainable) and are now transitioning to be more responsible, you have to start somewhere and you have to start small. If you scale that to the whole marketplace, every company, you got yourself serious results.

    I disagree that any CSR is better than none. Superficiality is just that, superficial (though by no means abhorrent). In order to implement CSR well, your values and intentions must back it up. Starting small is only the first step. Continuous improvement must follow. I dare say that if you’re trying to always be better, occasional mistakes will be easier to correct and easier to communicate.

    Peter

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  3. bbrian017

    What an amazing read David! So insightful for a beginner such as myself and advanced enough to maintain your readership. I enjoy following your blog greatly and have learned so much to date! Your writing style is impeccable and I can only wish to be this unique at some point in my life.

    Interesting you throw out the Shell about Nigeria situation. You’re absolutely right! Shell would never spend money they don’t have to as with any other company.

    I never noticed how gullible I was thinking these companies do CSR things to better the communities. It’s all money related and nothing is done at will.

    It would be cool to see an article that had a positive twist on some CSR examples. I wonder who leads the industry with the most stand up, care about their customer and the environment attitude, especially the ones that don’t have to but still comply to the standards.

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