Surveys Indicate CSR As a Profession is Still in an Early Stage

corporate social responsibility, leon kaye, BCLC, U.S. Chamber of commerce, Jennifer Woofter, csr profession, salaries, CSR, Corporate Responsibility Officers Association, sustainabilityProfessionals interested in the pursuit of a career focused on sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) will either feel motivated or cautious based on the findings of two reports released this past week. One report by a sustainability and strategy consulting firm revealed data about the salaries that such consultants make. Another, by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), describes what it sees as the current state of the CSR profession.

The lack of a consistent definition of the corporate responsibility profession translates into the lack of dollars at first glance. But therein lies opportunity for those with a strong entrepreneurial streak. Professionals within this space still have a future–albeit a wild one.

Jennifer Woofter of Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC), a network of over 450 sustainability professionals, headlined a report on the salaries such professionals can make. The upshot is that folks interested in this field need to take the long view. Woofter, SCC’s founder, said in her video that revenues for new sustainability consultants with little experience are meager, often less than $10,000 a year. In other words, do not quit your day job or say good-bye to your current freelancing gigs.

But as the years of experience increase, and especially if professionals develop a targeted niche, the salaries become more respectable and even lucrative. Similar to other functions, larger and more prestigious firms lead to higher salaries. SSC’s survey shows that about 40 percent of its survey’s respondents make between $50,000 to $100,000 a year; about one-fourth generate over $100K. Benefits were not included in the figures.

That broad range of figures is reflected in the BCLC report, a joint effort between the U.S. Chamber, IBM and the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association. Its survey of CSR practitioners and academics reveals a profession still in flux. The lack of a defined curriculum and demand for CSR professionals is in part because of the classic “chicken and the egg” dilemma. Schools will not invest in a CSR program if they do not see a demand and businesses are still looking for clarity as to what CSR exactly means.

Some of the BCLC’s major findings include:

  • CSR is still a nascent profession. That is probably obvious.
  • There is still no clear deliberate career path. Hardly a surprise, as CSR professionals often come from all walks of life, from marketing to strategy to environmental, health and safety (EHS).
  • There are no clear leaders because a lack of educational capacity exists. Considering that the reality of working within a business is different from what we learn in the halls of academia, that may not be a problem.
  • Most CSR professionals should take risks. The report needles CSR practitioners for not confronting their employers on difficult issues. That is more the fault with top management than the CSR practitioners themselves. Many CSR managers will say that they approach the c-level suite all the time with ideas but often do not win buy-in on their plans.

Some of the BCLC’s findings are dubious, such as the claim that some CSR leaders are “disturbingly apathetic” and “ambivalent” about their profession, backed up by one quote. That is probably true of just about any field, including engineering, sales, and human resources. The Chamber’s ambivalence towards CSR is reflective of some of the organization’s statements in recent years, from likening President Obama to Muammar Qaddafi and its consistent “jobs vs. the environment” rhetoric.

We think it would be best to hear from CSR practitioners themselves about what they think of their profession now and share their thoughts about its future. Please enter your comments below!

Leon Kaye, based in California and who has recently returned from the Middle East, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Leon Kaye.

Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He is currently Executive Editor of 3p, and is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). He's traveled worldwide and has lived in Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

3 responses

  1. Stephen Jordan (Executive Director of BCLC) recently commented on the BCLC report ‘The State of the Corporate Responsibility Profession’ ( on a CSRWire blog. Jordan believes that “the characteristics that define a mature profession, such as an educational curriculum and a career pipeline, are still missing in the CSR space.” Consequently, BCLC (which is a group within the US Chamber of Commerce) and the CROA are looking to formalize the process. I know this from having been invited to participate with BCLC and CROA along with many other practitioners as they seek to give leadership in the following areas:1. Development of the understanding of CSR career paths and/or the CSR skills that HR, Finance, Marketing, etc. should have embedded in their professional development2. Mapping of the curriculum and set of skills CSR folks should have3. Developing a compendium of expertise and insights4. “The Crystal Ball” project – helping leading experts anticipate future CSR issues and trends5. Cradle to Grave Training System which will address the needs of a) Entry Level, b) Mid-Career Support and c) Senior Leadership SupportI have appreciated Jordan’s emphasis on understanding that “a body of CSR stakeholders will need to build a consensus about what needs to be done.” Yet, I still have some misgivings. First, it is difficult for member driven organizations to set standards that are not perceived to benefit their membership. For example on CROA’s top 100 company ranking, Exxon ranks better than Starbucks Second, as you rightly observe Leon, the US Chamber’s attitude towards CSR is at best ambivalent. Often, the Chamber seems to be on the opposite side of the conversation as they spends millions on what can only be perceived as Anti-CSR efforts. The Wall Street Journal reported that the US Chamber spent almost 6 million to WEAKEN anti-bribery legislation which the Obama administration had to defend Finally, without a credible and significant academic institution driving these efforts I worry that they may end up being services sold by membership organizations versus true curriculum and career pipeline processes.I believe the ambitions of BCLC and CROA are correct. I have concerns about how the process is being driven.

    1. Interesting given the Chamber’s reputation in the CSR space, especially concerning environmental performance. 

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