The strong voice of the CSR community

It is now exactly 7 days ago that a storm in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) world broke out over an article by Aneel Karnani published in the Wall Street Journal titled: ”The case against Corporate Social Responsibility”.

In the article he argued that the idea of companies having a duty to address social ills is not just flawed but that it also makes it more likely that we’ll ignore the real solutions to these problems.

All week last week the reactions to this article from around the CSR community flooded in. People tweeted on Twitter, shared on Facebook and emailed from one practitioner to  the other arguing for and against this point of view. Some reactions where in support of Mr Karnani but the majority where criticizing the simplicity of his argument and absolutely disagreed with his assessment that CSR in itself as a business principle was flawed.

This is a list of some of the reactions by authors and websites:

I do not want to go into detail what my view on this article is but if you have read my blog for a while you will know that I am all for CSR as a business concept and that in my view no organization now and in the future can allow itself to not take some aspects of CSR in account in order to make more money and take up its role as a responsible business in our society.

In any case. For me this strong reaction by the CSR community showed a lot more then the passion of some individuals.

My interpretation of this reaction from the CSR community to this article

Over the past few years a lot of people in the CSR community have been become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress within global organizations to continue to implement a more material and meaningful CSR programs and practices within their business. At the same time more and more so called “business experts” started to make their voice heard and strongly criticized the whole purpose of CSR and its value for business. Common arguments include the lack of focus on the business case (ie. whether it makes the individual business more money embracing CSR) and the time is not right to lay further constraints on business growth (especially during an global economic downturn) by increasing its overhead costs and pulling vital budgets away to further strengthen CSR practices within a business.

The CSR Community is ready to face its critics: Last weeks reactions to the WSJ article showed that the CSR community is ready to face its critics and argue its way to increased recognition. It showed that there are many people out there that are willing to stand up and argue in favor of CSR, highlight the best practice and usefulness for the individual business and business as a whole across the globe.

Social Media and CSR is a winning combination: It has furthermore become very clear that social media as a tool is vital for the future of CSR. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are and will continue to be the three cornerstones of the next phase of CSR in terms of communication and collaboration. The more people join in to share their ideas, examples and experiences to make CSR the business norm, the more we will be able to convince business across the globe that CSR is not just a business fashion but that it is able to adapt and change to include the latest trends and best practice as well. Adapting in a way that CSR is providing a voice to all diverse stakeholders opinions and that organizations which are willing and able to listen to these voices will hugely benefit from this in the short in long term.

For me as a member of the CSR community, this last week was a very encouraging week.

What was your view on the discussion and reactions of people to the WSJ article? I would love to hear your viewpoint.

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How Sustainability can become a pre-competitive factor for business success

We need to change the way we think about sustainability and the future of our planet. This is the straightforward message how Jason Clay from WWF is ending this TED talk which I would like to present in today’s blog post.

I can really recommend this video to anyone interested in Sustainability. For me the most interesting message includes the need of NGO’s such as the WWF to work and cooperate with the biggest global brands on the key issues such as the global production of palm oil or the rainforest deforestation in order push us as consumers more towards demanding more sustainable products.

NGO’s can’t do this themselves. But what they can do is to convince and show companies that they can earn more money with being sustainable and pushing for a more sustainable production and distribution. If this is successful, Sustainability in the future will become one of the pre-competitive factors for business success.

This is the video:

The Sinar Mas Palm Oil saga continues

Several months ago Greenpeace started Kit Kat Nestle campaign to protest against the use of palm oil from companies that are trashing Indonesian rainforests, threatening the livelihoods of local people and pushing orang-utans towards extinction. Here is my post about the effect of the campaign: The Greenpeace Nestle Kit Kat campaign

In the end Greenpeace prevailed and now Nestle has stopped using palm oil products that come from rainforest destruction.

One of the major suppliers of Nestle was Sinar Mas. This company has now again come under immense pressure as Greenpeace reports this week:

Title: Sinar Mas caught with pants on fire, fibbing to stock markets

“Shooting yourself in the foot. Getting egg all over your face. These and many more idioms apply to the Sinar Mas group which, following the release of its audit last week, has seen its executives “misreporting” the audit’s findings.
Despite what company bigwigs have been saying, the audit doesn’t clear Sinar Mas of operating irresponsibly or outside Indonesian law, leading to the embarrassing retraction of several claims made publicly which the audit doesn’t in fact support. Worse, Sinar Mas has been telling these fibs not just to journalists, but to its shareholders, the Indonesian government and the stock exchange.”

Read the complete article here: Greenpeace on Sinar Mas Audits

My opinion

Did anyone really believe that Sinar Mas was going to back down and comply with the new rules it has set themselves as a result of outside pressure? The palm oil industry is a tough competitive industry and Sinar Mas is one of the market leaders. And it wants to stay one of the market leaders.

I believe there is only one answer to this reoccurring corporate irresponsibility. Sinar Mas needs to be closed down in my view and start anew in some shape or form that has different business principles and leadership at its core and a much stronger continuous stakeholder input. I am sure the people that where exploiting the rules and acting irresponsible are still working there. Change on this scale does not happen that quickly. So what made us think they would not go back to their old ways?

Over the years my opinion on how to tackle these difficult examples has changed. Cooperation and assistance in order to get results is one thing and must always be the first step but right-out criminal behavior does not deserve any kind of sympathy. Drastic action needs to be taken to put things at Sinar Mas and I am fully supporting the action of Greenpeace in this case.

Do you? What is your view on this?

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My Top Five Sustainability / CSR Communication Examples

Today we received our organic vegetable box as we do every Monday. Inside where some great vegetables and this little note:

What a great short note to say that this lettuce is not perfect but that there is also nothing wrong with it. This is what I call direct and easy to understand communication. I, as a customer, would like to see more of this kind of communication. But obviously this is not the norm we all know when we talk about Sustainability / CSR reports and related documents.

This kind of communication as illustrated above is therefore I believe even more important if you are communicating your Sustainability / CSR topics as a business.

Why? Because Sustainability / CSR topics are not as easy to communicate as a soft drink that has less sugar then the leading brand for example. A Sustainability / CSR message is a lot less exciting and relies more on facts and is generally considered ‘boring’ by most of its stakeholders.

So what are good examples where Sustainability / CSR topic have been communicated in a way that is easy to understand, direct and something I would call as good communication?

My top five currently are:

To sum up:
Good and effective Sustainability / CSR communication needs to be direct, uncomplicated and friendly but at the same time focused on the cultural context of the individual target group.

Here is an example: A message of Sustainability / CSR excellence that is intended for the Scandinavian market has to be focus more on the cultural context of the Scandinavian public. This same communication would most likely not work with the audience in the Spanish market.

I will try to find the time in the coming weeks to write a separate post about this crucial aspect in Sustainability / CSR communications: The cultural difference and Sustainability / CSR communication. In the meantime I would love to hear your views on the points I raised in this post.

Children Poverty: We need to ‘Put it right’

It is the end of the week and it has been a good week for me and most importantly my family.

Today’s post topic is a simple but at the same time so complicated one. How do we tackle the problem of children poverty around the globe or to write it in UNICEF words: ‘How do we put it right?’.

‘Put it right’ is the title of a 5 year long campaign by UNICEF. UNICEF is working in over 190 countries to protect the rights of all children and ensure that their voices are heard. It is a gigantic campaign in both outreach and importance and today’s post is dedicated to raising awareness for this important campaign.

We as Sustainability / CSR professionals and advocates already have a ‘soft-spot’ for social engagement and raising awareness of difficult topics all centered around Sustainability / CSR. That’s why I believe we all need to support as many social causes as possible. This campaign is one of these.

Here is the campaign video:

So what are you doing to make the world a better place? Help us and make a donation today or do whatever you can. I am doing my bit and I hope you can help as well.

Have a good weekend everyone and thanks for reading my blog.