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CSR: it’s a culture, not a role
July 7, 2009, 11:39 am
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Too often, when I ask representatives of corporations (in the wide-eyed innocent manner only a prospective graduate can achieve) what their CSR program is the answer is a resounding “Errr…”

This is most disappointing when one of the key parts of their marketing pitch to ‘Gen Y’ is that they are socially responsible.

I’d like to look at this from a branding and strategy perspective.

If one of your reps didn’t know about one of the other ‘five basic tenets’ of your business, say, client service, you’d fire them on the spot.

The best way to communicate the values that your company wants to represent are through the actions of the people that make it up. Increasingly, due to societal pressure, companies are throwing ‘the community’ on a list of things they value. But how can staff embody company values if they don’t even understand them?

As more and more companies get on the bandwagon, CSR will shift to being a hygeine factor and the motivation will have to come from interesting concepts and authentic execution.

If you are going to go for CSR programs, it’s NOT just a ‘role’ that you can palm off to one person in corporate communications. It’s not a profession, it’s not a function. It’s part of company culture.

Otherwise, you end up with the situation I described earlier. For the students you’re trying to attract who care about CSR and want to know you’re doing it, that would be an ‘epic fail’ (to use ‘Gen Y’ speak).

All it takes (imho) is training and dialogue. This is why I’d like to see companies like Carbon Planet not just offering carbon credits and consultation but also training for entire organisations.

Make sure that your employees have an idea of what your company is doing. (Especially if you’re in an ‘evil’ industry like oil.) Better yet, an understanding. The feeling that through little extra personal effort they’re part of an organisation which is helping the community gives employees something to feel good about.

At the very least, please, brief them before sending them out to represent your company.

I’d like to add something for evangelists of CSR: it’s important to remember that when you’re talking to people outside of the CSR community the things that are obvious to you may not to be obvious to them.

It’s a constant sales pitch. You need to convince them in a way that doesn’t make them hate you.

Sweeping ‘obviously we must do this’ statements, absolute refusal to discuss other points of view, spam; they’re annoying and they give others who don’t want to listen the perfect excuse to brush you off.

If you’re going to call for action, how you’re communicating is just important as what you’re communicating.


5 Comments so far
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Cool article and very true.

CSR (not my favourite term) isn’t rocket science and possibly the most undervalued, misunderstood and misused management concept in history.

Those who know, know. Unfortunately this group struggle to communicate effectively outside their own peers.

Comment by davidcoethica

Thanks David (sorry for the late reply!)

CSR seems to be the most common phrase, what do you prefer to call it? It’s so broad that it can get confusing!

Comment by katherineliew

Hi Katherine,

Since you’ve mde mention of Carbon Planet I’d like to point out that our own CSR activities are focussed around a programme called Operation: Coolenation (@coolenation in twitter, or, a complete ‘science of climate change’ teaching programme for primary schools. We made the whole resource available on DVD for free, or schools can buy a single printed (beautifully too I might add) edition at cost price and it comes with a DVD of all materials.

It’s been really popular and we hope to roll it out further over the coming years.

While we have no formal corporate education programmes, we do partner with firms and recognise that behavioural change is usually cheaper than structural change when it comes to carbon emissions. Carbon Planet’s role there is to consult, measure, assess risk, and recommend reduction plans, typically in partnership with a firm’s accountant or other trusted business advisor. CP has relationships with many accounting firms in Australia to deliver integrated carbon management planning.

A key to business is keeping focus. We concentrate on what we do best and partner to fill the gaps.

Dave Sag
Founder and Executive Director
Carbon Planet Limited

Comment by Dave Sag

Thanks for responding to the mention Dave – sorry it took so long to reply, this went through spam for some reason.

Glad that Coolenation’s doing well, it sounds like a great program! Still would love to see a corporate education branch, just because Carbon Planet is one of my favourite consultancies. If you ARE thinking of branching out I know someone who used to be a training director for a national health company, currently manages community/environment activities for a major insurance brand and is looking for a job in Adelaide…give me an email or a DM on Twitter if you’re interested!

Comment by katherineliew

[…] else would we like to see in there? I could see some scope for emphasising the importance of internal CSR training, using community investment for effective marketing, and giving some directions on SRI. But as a […]

Pingback by CSR course to be made compulsory for undergraduates « Evolving Choice – Corporate Social Responsibility, Simply

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