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When it comes to CSR, keep on keeping on

This is my final issue at the helm of Ethical Performance. It’s been an extremely interesting and enlightening three years, the spirit of which I shall endeavour to take with me.

One of the main things I discovered is that for all its trendy terms, CSR and sustainability aren’t particularly new concepts. There have always been social business crusaders – John Cadbury and William Lever spring readily to mind. It may all be wrapped up these days in new terms and jargon, but at the end of the day it’s all about running a business – no matter what its size – responsibly and with an eye to the greater good, ensuring the survival of the business, its profits and the planet for future generations.

So it’s heartening to read this month that the latest PwC CEO report shows that the majority of CEOs globally believe that business purpose is as crucial to success as its profits. They might not all agree on the definition of purpose - for some it meant why their business exists, for others it how business is done – but they did all talk of their responsibility to the whole range of stakeholders, including shareholders, supply chain partners, employees, customers and society at large.

It’s a pity that language tends to get in the way. It’s been a bugbear since I started writing about CSR/CR/sustainability– the jargon ‘of the space’.

Even just lately, I’ve heard that one of the biggest industrial leaders in ‘the space’ won’t get involved with anything associated with the term ‘CSR’. Apparently the abbreviation is too tainted with ‘a tick box approach’ and inferences of ‘add-on’ rather than embedded. And as recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Unilever’s CMO said CSR is ‘tripping up business’ and that companies should ‘be sustainable, not leave CSR to save the world.’

I don’t see why the terms have to be mutually exclusive. In my three years I have come across plenty of companies who call CSR, erm, CSR and where it’s a totally embedded, sustainable approach. Just because a business has a department or ‘head of’ doesn’t mean it’s a separate part of the business, let alone a ‘bolt-on’.

Whatever you call it, it ain’t going away. It’s only going to become more important.
ndeed, given Dee Hock’s observation that “an organisation, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it”, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Latest research from the Institute of Environmental Assessment shows that with the spotlight on sustainability and environmental issues following the recent Paris climate talks, prime job candidates are now much more selective about the employers they choose to work for. Over half of “Generation S” candidates would refuse to work for employers who have a record of using slave labour, generating high levels of pollution, employing unsafe working conditions, poor environmental performance, questionable investments and unethical practices. Yes, Generation S is on the move!

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