The CSR Officer: What if a Company Doesn’t Have One?

Kaye, CSR jobs, SAP, Microsoft
One of the many NGOs the German software giant SAP works with. A CSR officer should have strong knowledge of business and nonprofits.

As more companies realize the benefits of having an ambitious and transparent corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly taking a look at what they can do for the environment, communities, or both. And as more professionals, especially ones finishing school and starting their careers, seek a job as a CSR officer in any form, they confront the same challenge:

There sure aren’t a lot of those CSR jobs at the moment.

So what is someone keen on CSR to do? And how can a company interested in doing more for the community, but does not have a dedicated CSR officer or manager, move forward?

New England-based LBG Research, a community investment research nonprofit, offered suggestions in a briefing issued last week.

First, companies need to address how exactly they are going to be “sustainable” or a better “corporate citizen.” LBG Research delineates between CSR and corporate citizenship. The former, a frequent issue we discuss here at TriplePundit, generally covers the “triple bottom line”: people, planet and profit (our friends across the pond gravitate towards ESG: environmental, social and governance). SAP, for example, often touts its programs as “CSR.” Corporate citizenship (the mantra at Microsoft, for instance), in LBG Research’s words, covers “a company’s interaction with the community and what it ‘gives back.’”

If you are new to this field and are confused by all the terminology, don’t be. Many professionals in this space use the terms interchangeably, and then some yahoos like me throw in “sustainability.” The semantics and definitions are less important than a company’s interest, execution and outcomes when it comes to environmental sustainability, community work and transparency.

So what makes for a strong CSR leader, de facto or otherwise? Well, qualities necessary in most leadership roles are a start. LBG Research touts the obvious: excellent communication skills, persuasiveness, the ability to deal with complex situations are important. An understanding of a firm’s business, community and current issues are also necessary for someone applying for such a position, and in reality, for any corporate entry-level job. Clearly, finding comfort in both the business and nonprofit worlds applies, especially since more companies partner with nonprofits to tackle pressing environmental and social problems. In sum, the backgrounds of CSR professionals are diverse—just read through 3p Editor Andrea Newell’s series on Women in CSR.

According to this briefing, only 42 percent of companies (size and scope of companies were not defined) have a dedicated CSR officer. What about the other 58 percent? The alternatives should not be surprising: an executive or leader within the company who has the aforementioned traits, or a committee for smaller companies. LBG Research reminds us a corporate citizenship job is about more than writing a check, though anyone immersed in this space would say such an approach has not been the norm for years. Smart companies go for a CSR approach that aligns with a company’s strategy, and is in the best position to take on community programs that can benefit from that same organization’s talent, products and services.

Which leads to the question professionals both young and transitioning often ask: “How can I get a CSR job?” The advice LBG Research offers is cookie-cutter for just about every profession, including networking and understanding the worlds of both the public and private sector. But, the best answer is what many CSR, sustainability, and “corporate citizenship” officers tell me – with the reality that these jobs are hard to come by, the best option, at a large or small company, is to make your current job a “CSR job.” Whether you find a way to integrate corporate citizenship into your job or become a resource for that top CSR professional at your company, you can both groom your resume and be an asset. Plenty of low-hanging fruit exists for someone to take on, from carbon accounting to community involvement to cleaning up the supply chain. So, if you want your company to be a more responsible one, figure out how to start with small steps, and then take them.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: Leon Kaye]

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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