On its face, PriceWaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) CSR program is perplexing. Why does a firm famous for accounting focus on youth education, diversity, and greenhouse gas emissions in it CSR program? I posed this question to PwC’s CSR Leader Shannon Schuyler. She explained that in the context of risk, these issues do fit their business. She also illustrated PwC’s fourth CSR prong: ‘marketplace’ – an ingenious strategy in which PwC’s CSR campaigns act as a laboratory for CSR best practices it then flips into consulting services. This business model demonstrates one way in which firms’ CSR can be monetized in a fortuitous cycle.
According to Schuyler, PwC’s CSR program started as a response to internal employee demand. Employees wanted the firm to take action on issues they cared about, such as climate change. With that basis, PwC’s CSR efforts were aimed at employee retention, and millennial recruitment- milllenials that increasingly sought social responsibility in prospective employers. However, then PwC began to realize CSR’s potential as a risk management strategy, and observed that it fit neatly into its consulting business. PwC repackaged the lessons it learned from its own CSR experiences into viable products for consulting clients that were interested in starting CSR programs of their own. Thus PwC’s CSR success not only benefited the stakeholders it is meant to serve, but it also propagated additional CSR activity in other large firms.
PwC’s CSR program has other logical tie-ins; for example, its youth education program focuses on financial literacy. Green house gas management is primarily concerned with quantitative reporting and reduction, activities that are not too far from the financial reporting PwC specializes in. Indeed, accounting firms are ideally situated to diversify their business from reporting financial data to environmental/ social/ governance data. PwC has found that acting as a third party auditor applies equally well to carbon as to cash flows.
PwC has purposely created a competitive advantage over other consulting firms by being able to point at its own long history of social responsibility work (its most recent action-a $500,000 donation to hunger organization Feeding America). Schuyler noted the need for consultants to be able to ‘walk the talk’, a refreshing perspective that Guy Kawasaki echoed in his criticism of the consulting industry to Management Consulting News: “Remember one thing: Giving advice is easy, but implementation is hard work.”
Schuyler concluded by expressing PwC’s core CSR philosophy. To paraphrase, not only is CSR good business –firms with CSR programs are more profitable and weathered the recession better than their socially irresponsible counterparts- but CSR creates opportunities to infuse integrity and ethics into business. It is that infusion of ethics and integrity that PwC wants to stake out as its brand and core business.