Now, more than ever, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a hot topic for scholars and professionals alike. As a mass communication graduate student at the University of Central Florida, I have the opportunity to take a course on “Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility” – the first of its kind in the graduate program.
If you’re not the average PR nerd (like me) you might not know exactly what CSR is, or why it’s important. And to make matters more confusing, CSR isn’t always called CSR. Organizations often refer to their CSR efforts as “sustainability,” “social responsibility,” “corporate responsibility” and so on.
A Google search of corporate social responsibility yields around 9 million results, if not more. But, the definition I like best is one from Dr. W. Timothy Coombs and Dr. Sherry J. Holladay where they define CSR in their 2012 book, Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, as “The voluntary actions that a corporation implements as it pursues its mission and fulfill its perceived obligations to stakeholders, including employees, communities, the environment, and society as a whole.”
Note that CSR is described as “voluntary actions” meaning an organization is not obliged by law to implement CSR strategies. Yet, if you ask me, obligations to stakeholders (all of them – not just shareholders) trump any law.
Realistically, as Milton Friedman contested, the sole purpose of an organization is making a profit. So, should CSR incorporate some component that ensures an increase in bottom-line profits?
To simplify things just a bit, if anyone asks me what CSR is, I describe the concept as encompassing the “3 P’s – People, Planet and Profit” (thanks, Dr. Holladay). So, if we view the concept of CSR this way, we likely view CSR as benefiting stakeholders (internal and external), the environment and the bottom line. Yet, for organizations worldwide, the question still begs: Why CSR? According to The Guardian’s recent article Corporates as agents of social change: the academic view the value of doing “good” isn’t clear. So, if organizations can’t quantify the benefits of CSR, what’s in it for them?
And to the critical observer, CSR enthusiast and maybe even the regular customer or run-of-the-mill employee, the question remains: Are CSR programs implemented for altruistic reasons … do organizations really care? What do you think?