CSR: where communications goes from here

I'd like to finish up my look at CSR this week with a renewed call for some common language and understanding.

I'd like to finish up my look at CSR this week with a renewed call for some common language and understanding. 

Today we still hear the term corporate social responsibility being applied to everything from a call for greater transparency, to sustainability initiatives, to charitable giving. These are fundamentally different issues and to paint them with a similar brush is not helping our own cause or the causes we seek to support.  

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, proposed a conceptual framework a few years ago to define different types of business engagement. He suggested a common sense way to talk about corporate responsibility in terms of five major areas:

Corporate governance: a commitment to ethical business practices, compliance with local laws, transparency

Corporate philanthropy: the traditional area of “giving back to society," which is usually in the form of cash donations and grants, as well as goods and services

Corporate social responsibility: In essence, CSR is how a corporation responds to the expectation of its stakeholders. It means addressing the wider financial, environmental, and social impact of all that a company does.

Corporate social entrepreneurship: the transformation of socially responsible principles and ideas into products and services

Global corporate citizenship: The recognition that the corporation is a stakeholder itself within civil society and is committed to helping maintain stability, prosperity, and sustainability..

As strategic communications consultants, we have an opportunity to extend our influence if we adopt a more sophisticated framework for discussing CSR that moves beyond mere marketing and reputation building. 

Now that we've earned a seat at the corporate table, we can and should help organizations think through how they want to engage at a more fundamental level. Do they want to merely “give back” with generous grantmaking, or commit as global corporate citizens to incorporating sustainable business practices into their everyday operations? Or perhaps create a sea-change in consumer behavior by starting a compelling new “ethical brand” within their brand portfolio?

Let's bring a higher level of understanding and insight into the CSR discussion, beyond the sensational headlines of the next BP-like disaster. CEOs and boards have spoken - they are committed to helping their organizations increase not only shareholder value, but value to society as well. We can help.

Paul Jensen is chairman of the North American corporate practice at Weber Shandwick. 

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