CSR after the recessions and the big splash


Globally, 2010 has been called the “coming out” year for corporate social responsibility (CSR). With growing company investments in programming, a high profile debate on CSR in The Wall Street Journal1 and visibility in the C-suite, CSR and sustainability have come a long way from a niche activity of mission-based businesses. Today, engaging with social and environmental stakeholders is a must-do for any company, regardless of sector.

In Canada we have seen gradual progress since the founding of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) 15 years ago, and increased mainstreaming of CSR into TSX200 companies over the past five years. While Canada may not have had the “big CSR splash” we saw in the United States last year, green business activity is very busy these days across the country. We should be proud to have global CSR leaders like Mountain Equipment Co-op2, Gildan Activewear3 and many others under our roof, and we see Canadian companies moving towards parity with traditional CSR leaders in the U.K. and Europe. During the recession companies had to be more strategic in their CSR investments, but activity is opening up as we move into a post-recession economy.
What are the major CSR trends for the first quarter of 2011?

Embedding CSR into business plans continues

During the recession, many companies focused on CSR planning and visioning, while maintaining current program levels. We now see firms executing on plans that further integrate CSR, with the support of leadership. A recent IBLF and Echo Research survey4 from the U.K. confirms that CEOs of major international brands continue to view CSR as a strategic priority. The social and environmental governance structures that embed CSR within companies do vary by sector. Many companies use a focused CSR governance framework such as CBSRs5, but recent work with our banking members highlights how companies with strong corporate governance have embedded CSR into existing controls.

Emerging international frameworks shape company practice

The United Nations continues to work actively to bring together government, industry and civil society to advance CSR. The UN’s Special Representative on business & human rights Dr. John Ruggie’s “Protect, Respect and Remedy” human rights framework6 was launched in 2008, and consultations have just been completed on the Guiding Principles for use of the framework. Already consulted by CBSR members Nestlé and Export Development Canada, the framework has wide international support. The UN Global Compact has also just launched a new sustainability leadership program called LEAD7 with CBSR members Talisman and Teck participating.

Climate change adaptation gaining attention

Adaptation to climate change complements carbon footprint reduction by preparing for climate change impacts that cannot be avoided. We are already witnessing initiatives driven by governments, and industries such as mining and extractives, agriculture, insurance, transportation, real estate and tourism. From vulnerability assessments and emergency response measures to insurance products against climate related damage and shifting developments farther away from the coast–Canadian industry is adjusting operations and decisions in response to a changing climate.

Collaboration and partnerships address the trust gap

As a sophisticated form of stakeholder engagement, collaboration is an important way to take CSR performance to the next level. The global 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer8, with results slightly improved over 2010, still shows a lack of public trust in business that can be ameliorated by strong collaboration with stakeholders.

The business case for CSR re-articulated

In 2010, The Wall Street Journal article noted above ignited renewed debate on the value of CSR. The topic was revived in early 2011 as well-known Harvard strategy professor Michael Porter, with Mark Kramer, released their Creating Shared Value (CSV) concept9. CSV may not be a new idea, but Porter’s argument that business must create shared value for so¬ciety is bringing more mainstream attention to core CSR concepts.

2011 promises renewed investment in CSR in Canada and sophisticated activities like complex collaborations, international engagement and responses to climate change. When companies take a thoughtful, consistent approach to social and environmental impacts, there will be big results for business and society. We will report on new and advancing CSR developments in Q2, 2011.