CSR often means different things for different companies. That's not necessarily a bad thing, argues Martin Brown.
By Martin Brown
CSR has been and is interpreted in many ways with differing organizational importance and values, from occasional volunteering to something that is embedded within an organization’s DNA and culture.
Emergence of CSR thinking over the years has blurred boundaries of Corporate Social Resilience, Corporate Sustainable Responsibility and even Carbon Social Responsibility. But in its scope and spectrum lies its strength: with no size fitting all, an organization’s CSR policy and strategy is of utmost importance.
In many ways it defines the organization.
Since involvement in Total Quality Management, the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM ) framework has provided a good analytical tool for organizational excellence, from quick and dirty observational understanding to in-depth high profile European awards.
Likewise, the EFQM CSR approach based on the framework has for many years served as litmus test for the CSR performance of any organization.
Of course, we could dig deeper through excellent reports, for example the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), but the “enabler” criteria from EFQM CSR framework provides us with an effective lens with which to observe and understand an organization’s commitment:
- Leadership: how leaders engage with and role model CSR
- Strategy: how the strategy is developed and communicated
- People: how people are recruited and developed in line with the strategy
- Resources: how resources are procured and managed in line with strategy
- Process: how the CSR strategy, policy and values are embedded into everyday work process
Alongside this framework, I see five areas that provide a “shop window” through which to observe organizational CSR deployment:
An organization’s commitment to CSR can quickly be evaluated by reading and listening to the CEO, director, board member or managers: how they behave in public or in meetings. What image of CSR do they project and role model? There are some great leadership examples, and many unsung heroes, but leaders always need to be aware of that misplaced or careless comment that will damage an organization’s CSR image and reputation.
With buildings accounting for 40 percent of energy use, nowhere else is a CSR commitment more on show than in the buildings organizations occupy. Organizations that seek excellence in CSR should also be demonstrating excellence in the energy and indeed social aspects of their buildings, through, for example, premier LEED, BREEAM or Living Building standard.
Unsurprisingly many of the recent batch of CSR and sustainability initiatives (O2, Unliver, Hertz) include energy reduction through improved building performance. Patagonia's “make the best product and do no unnecessary harm” extends to design, construction and use of their buildings.
Procurement decisions are often very visible, but are they made through the organization’s CSR lens?
Are social and environmental, as well as cost factors, always considered?
Mapping the supply chain footprint to, e.g., a construction project clearly demonstrates CSR issues such as transport and localism.
Your people and suppliers are your CSR Ambassadors. Listening to and talking with them provides a great insight to CSR commitment. Many organizations provide excellent training and development for their staff, even suppliers, yet from experience in the built environment sector, many do not understand CSR, their organization’s approach to CSR or indeed what they are expected to do to promote social responsibility.
The U.K. Considerate Constructor scheme has done much to foster social responsibility in construction, but unfortunately it is all too often seen as a chore and a point-chasing exercise, not always identified or connected with wider CSR approaches and aspirations
Which leads us to social media.
Social Media has become the first search option for many in understanding and observing CSR performance, with, for example clients looking to select suppliers or potential employees seeking employment.
Organizations increasingly see the value of tuning into and engaging with the “Voice of Social Media”, yet as it becomes a key ingredient in promoting and sharing activity, it also becomes an Achilles heel, enabling both whistleblowing and instant sharing of CSR failings.
Over to You…
So, how robust is your CSR message through your digital footprint? When was the last time you looked at your CSR through your organization’s “Shop Window?”
Share your perspective, challenges and expertise by leaving a comment and connecting with us on Twitter and Facebook.