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Is CSR Dead? A Challenge at the National CSR and Sustainability Conference

By 3p Contributor

By Adam Woodhall

At the first National CSR & Sustainability Conference, held in London last month, the provocative question "Is CSR dead?" was posed. The question was considered directly and indirectly from many different angles, both challenging and celebratory. A few examples will highlight the grand scope of the day.

As sustainability and social responsibility covers a vast area, it was a relief that the Conference mainly focused around two key areas: environment/circular economy and corporate governance/tax issues.

The Conference opened with Catherine Howarth, CEO of ShareAction, enthusing us with stories of how their AGM Army have door stepped many corporations to ask "delightful questions" which have challenged many of these organisations to make changes. One highlight is that 30 of the FTSE100 have now signed up to the Living Wage. Howarth ended her keynote by urging everybody to knock on the door of their pension fund to ask these governance questions.

Prof Raimund Bleischwitz, of University College London challenged us with the notion that the UN Sustainable Development Goals have been built on the basis of a linear economy; however, all the evidence suggests they need to be built for a circular economy.  Celebrating the circular economy was Jonathan Garratt, Director CSR at Jaguar Land Rover, who projected that by 2020 25% of their cars will be made out of drinks cans, so in a few years you could literally be driving around in a Coke can!

Paul Monaghan, Director of the Fair Tax Mark, didn’t think CSR was dead, but challenged CSR professionals to pay attention to the top two concerns for the British public, which are corporate tax avoidance and executive pay.

Somebody who is paying attention is Bianca Shead, Sustainable Development Advocacy & Policy of SABMiller, who observed that tax is a transparency issue so therefore a CSR issue and encouraged everybody to be open with it. 

Perhaps the most interesting answer to “Is CSR dead?” was by Graham Precey, Head CSR & Ethics at Legal & General: he thinks it is, as he believes we are all R&D professionals.

The conference closed with a keynote from the inspirational Roz Savage. It took seven years for Savage to complete the mammoth task of rowing solo across three oceans. She highlighted how we must recognise that we are not superior from nature.  We were left with the rallying call that the way to get over fear of the vast "oceans" in front of us is by being massively motivated, in her case by the sustainability imperative.

Along with the stimulation received from the speakers, attendees were also inspired by the venue, the multi-award winning Siemens' Crystal building, the lowest carbon footprint building in the world and one that contains an innovative exhibit about urban life in the future, and were served delicious sustainable food from Sodexo.

Finally, in addition to all the celebration and challenge, we were also given guidance on how to make change happen such as that from Gareth Ellis from Hubbub who helped us understand how that organization engages: “Make it easy, topical and emotive; create unusual collaborations; and be innovative”.

As the conference finished, we were left digesting the nourishing food, conversations, provocations, questions and answers, and looking forward to next year’s event whilst we absorbed the provocation “Is CSR dead?” (My personal answer? It is rapidly evolving).

Photo: Steve Walker swpics.co.uk

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