Recognizing CSR as a Core Business Practice

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I have long argued that corporate social responsibility (CSR) needs to be a fully integrated strategy throughout a company in order to have a significant effect on how the company does business. I have also written often about social enterprise/entrepreneurship where one builds a for-profit company that focuses on solving social problems as well as making money. And I recently commented that I look forward to the time when social entrepreneurs would just be called entrepreneurs because the idea of weaving social and environmental benefits into the fabric of one’s company would become mainstream. Apparently we are moving in that direction. Lest you think I am being fooled by any multi-national corporation’s (MNC) actions towards full CSR integration, there have been some interesting movements recently by two large companies, one, consumer durables and one media, on this front.

Unilever, which has a presence in 100 countries throughout the world, is doing away with its CSR department calling it “redundant”. According to an article last week on Environmental Leader, the goal is to get rid of the department and integrate its practices throughout the company. This is an admirable move in that the company seems to understand the importance of working towards a social and financial benefit, while doing its part to cut down on its environmental impact. In fact, along with competitor, Procter and Gamble, Unilever has spent much of its time developing cheap sanitation products in order to address issues arising from overwhelming urban migration in developing countries. The company launched a “Sustainable Living Plan” in November 2010 in order to “help more than a billion people to improve their hygiene habits and bring safe drinking water to 500 million people by 2020.” An admirable goal to be certain. Whether they attempt this, as a loss leader in order to gain new customers amongst a growing middle class in these countries or are actually able to turn a profit will be interesting to see.

From a different sector, it was announced this past week that Reuters was doing away with its “Green Business” page. An announcement on the company blog had this to say:

“One of the goals of the sustainability movement is to integrate its objectives into all facets of business. In this light, is ahead of the game as we enter a time when solar panel companies are mainstream enough to be on the regular business page and not siphoned off to a private green niche.

Of course, green companies, technology and economies are not going away. At we embrace this opportunity to bring the business of the environment into the fold of the rest of the site, and welcome you to continue your dialogue with us as we branch out to yet another new chapter.”

Interestingly enough, during the same week, Bloomberg announced that it will be launching a sustainability page on its website. Meanwhile, the Guardian in the UK is one of the few (if not only) mainstream media outlets that has specific sections covering both international development issues and the world of social enterprise. However, Reuters is the first media company that I’m aware of to take this step towards integration.

Perhaps we are moving towards a new era of social and environmental stewardship amongst companies big and small. We are seeing the rise of interest in social enterprise amongst young people (look at how many MBA programs are now offering this type of focus) and it appears that some large companies are now integrating these initiatives into mainstream processes. It will be interesting to see where CSR 2.0 takes us.

Image Credit by Serena via Flickr under a CC license

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