Responsible Business Practice Terminology: The Normal Chaos or Total Confusion?

Last week I started a poll on the question what you thought would be the best term for responsible business practice.

In total we had 117 votes with a result which was surprising to see in my opinion.

The most popular term with a total of 25 votes was Corporate Responsibility (CR) (21%) followed by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) (21 votes, 18%), then Corporate Sustainability (19 votes, 16%), Corporate Citizenship (18 votes, 15%) and Sustainability with 14 votes and 12%.

Here are the results in a pie chart format:

So what can we take away from this result?

One point is crystal clear in my opinion. Responsible business practice is still being associated with too many different terms.

I think there are two different interpretations of this result:

Good development: This is good as it shows that different people and cultures have different terms to express responsible business practice. And different terms do not mean different things for these people just that companies need to be more responsible.

Confusion: This is not a good development as the usage of so many different terms just confuses everyone. This result is a sign of this.
In order to limit this confusion one or at most two terms should be the preferred terms to be associated with responsible business practice.

I personally only use the term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability but this seems to vary most individuals and therefore believe that the second interpretation is more fitting.

Maybe this is a good thing as well? I am not so sure.

What do you think about these results? How do interpret them?

No Comments

  1. Fabian,In my view Corporate Social Responsability is being replaced by Corporate Responsability because Social is not necessary – this concept is part of the Responsability concept itself. And you're right: this fact adds up to the already existing confusion in the field of Sustainability.Best,Maria

  2. Although I confess some confusion, I don't think "responsible business practice" necessarily means sustainable or socially responsible. I also don't have a problem with multiple terms, as long as they are clearly defined and understood to mean the same things. Therein lies the challenge, I think.

  3. Thanks for the comments.@Maria: I agree that the Social is dropped more and more now. I guess this is also a good sign.@Wakio: Good points. I guess it would be great to finally have a set of definitions and terms we could stick with and not reinvent the wheel every time.

  4. Hello Fabian. I am amazed at the lack of consensus your poll demonstrates. Not that it raises questions about the consistency or purpose of the work practitioners do -in the end it is safe to assume that the plurality of opinions is just around form and not content- but it does provoke some thoughts as to the most preeminent aspect embeded in each term. While I like CSR, I think that as the concept gains ground and both socially and environmentally responsible practices become widespread, the 'S' should be dropped as there is no longer a need to stress the kind of responsibility addressed here, and also for brevity. Besides when I search the net for CSR jobs nearly always it prompts customer service representative jobs. Does anyone else get that too? Guess we still have a long way to go to beat those call center chaps. In any case, CR would be a good alternative and I often use it. It is concise and it encompasses both aspects I consider essential here: it refers to private sector inicitives and it reflects a commitment towards becoming accountable. Does the trick for me. However there is a term I like even more and that is corporate citizenship. I remember one the first things I ever learned about companies is that legally speaking, they are not people but entities formed by people, and therefore, their rights and obligations are not necessarily the same as those ascribed to people. I think most concessions made to corporations throughout history can be traced to that starting point: foot-loose capital, appropriation of natural resources, ties with governments, unfair wages, pollution, etc. To my eyes, corporate citizenship conveys a message of reconciliation, meaning that businesses should strive to bridge gaps and get closer to people and their interests. In other words, becoming more human.Becoming citizens like you and me. With rights and duties. And I like that.

  5. One additional point about terminology is to consider perspective. From the point of view of a company, 'corporate' is arguably redundant. Indeed the alcohol sector has long talked about 'social responsibility', although the sector uses it in the narrow sense of responsible marketing and responsible consumption.On the other hand, the 'social' is pretty bleeding obvious. I mean CSR is about how a business impacts on 'society' after all. Dropping the 'social' also means the end of that mis-stated phrase 'corporate and social responsibility' which drives me bonkers because it shows how poorly understood the concept is. Gladly I don't hear this much nowadays. But TLAs (three letter acronyms – see what I did there ;-0) are always popular because we like to speak in threes. So I see 'CSR' remaining popular for some time.

  6. Where's the term Corporate Societal Responsibility? That's what we really mean, isn't it? Companies or organisations being responsible in their operations and activities towards the society as a whole – economically, ecologically and socially.

  7. Very interesting results, and it would be great if business leaders could come to some sort of a consensus and try to increase consistency. I use CSR, because I think that it's the best and most commonly recognized term, but at the same time I believe that it has its flaws. I think that all organizations, not only businesses, should measure the impacts that they have on their stakeholders and strive to improve them. There are many NGO's, public institutions, and other organizations that might have social missions, but have poor social responsibility track records in one area or another (HR practices, environmental impacts, etc..). Although I know you were only looking responsible 'businesses' practices, I think that we should start looking at every organization's responsible practices. So in my opinion, that's why the 'Corporate' is problematic in CSR.I also think that the word 'Responsibility' turns a lot of small and medium sized business owners off to the entire concept of CSR. There are a lot of different ways to promote responsible business practices, and I think that focusing on the benefits to the organization is one of them. In order to engage in CSR initiatives that are beyond what's merely legal, the business should see some positive long term benefits, whether its improved recruiting, increased employee commitment and retention, higher levels of innovation, energy cost savings, increased sales, stronger partnerships, etc.. That way stakeholder groups will continue supporting the initiatives, as they produce both economic AND social value. So, the word responsibility might be a turn-off since it is telling business owners that it is their responsibility to go above what's merely legal, rather than it is good business to go above what's merely legal. And no one likes being told what they have to do. So for awhile I started using Corporate Social Performance or Corporate Social Strategy, but CSR seems to be the more recognized and accepted term.

  8. Hello everyone. Thank you again for all your comments. They are so useful. Here are my comments on the three newer comments:@Adam: I agree. CSR will stay quite popular for some time I guess.@Raisa: I have not really heard of Corporate Societal Responsibility. Do you have a reference for the usage by any chance?@Tom: I also like these two terms Corporate Social Performance or Corporate Social Strategy. But as Adam pointed out I guess CSR will stay popular for some time to come.Any more comments on the results?

  9. Hello everyone. Thank you again for all your comments. They are so useful. Here are my comments on the three newer comments:@Adam: I agree. CSR will stay quite popular for some time I guess.@Raisa: I have not really heard of Corporate Societal Responsibility. Do you have a reference for the usage by any chance?@Tom: I also like these two terms Corporate Social Performance or Corporate Social Strategy. But as Adam pointed out I guess CSR will stay popular for some time to come.Any more comments on the results?


  10. I never took the time to interpret all the terms I hear daily but now that I've read this article I realize there are at least two terms for the same action or product. It must be confusing indeed, especially for someone who's new in this field. Is there a way to canonicalize business terms? Mathew Farney | Trianz

  11. I never took the time to interpret all the terms I hear daily but now that I've read this article I realize there are at least two terms for the same action or product. It must be confusing indeed, especially for someone who's new in this field. Is there a way to canonicalize business terms? Mathew Farney | Trianz

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