CSR: 8 Short Questions, 5 Long Answers
When Bing Tanslate came up with an interesting "English" translation of my interview in Romanian, I realized that I had to step in. This is just one example:
Here is the interview in full. Bingless.
We recognize that companies have to start where they are. As consultants, we are always looking to help our clients deliver more progress, better results, faster implementation and broader and deeper assimilation of sustainability principles in the business. However, we recognize that companies can only do so much and that they have to pace themselves. Sustainability is a long-term effort and must follow a strategy which has a scope and a timing which is right for each business.
Could you tell us what is your opinion of the current phase of corporate social responsibility? What are the main challenges that the field is facing?
Worldwide, I believe sustainability is in a dynamic phase and moving towards a more holistic representation of the concept. Rather than just trying to "be good" or "do good", there is more of a realization these days that sustainability is a way of business, not just a project which runs alongside the business. No longer just about values or philanthropy, companies now see they can make money through sustainability.
Broadly, the approach to sustainability is more governed by the size and global nature of a business, rather than its location. Global companies, which are generally leading the sustainability pathway, operate in the same way in every market in which they are present. This has the effect of leveling out local and cultural differences. Local companies in every market are impacted significantly by the standards established by leading businesses, as they are often suppliers to these businesses. Microsoft, P&G and Wal-Mart, for example, require their suppliers to report on sustainability performance.
You also offer Sustainability Reporting consultancy. How important is for a company to be transparent about its CSR activities?
We see transparency as a catalyst for performance. The very act of preparing a Sustainability Report causes a company to confront many issues within its business which have never been addressed previously in the same way. Different questions are asked and new measurements are required. Core deliberations about disclosure cause serious discussions in the business at the highest levels. Making a public commitment to targets and action plans carry a certain pressure to deliver, far more than with targets communicated internally.
What are the main challenges you face when trying to convince companies about the importance of CSR reporting?
More and more these days, we do less in terms of "trying to convince" companies to report. We prefer to talk to companies about Sustainable Business Strategy, and help them understand why and how this is beneficial for their business as well as for society and for the planet. The Sustainability Report is part of this discussion. Our reputation as Sustainability Report consultants often brings companies to approach us after they have made the decision to report and are looking for the expert support to deliver the best document they can.
However, we still spend much time and energy in helping develop awareness in the market, through our writings, conferences and our work with different corporate groups. One initiative, which we started in 2009, is called the Transparency Index. We evaluate and publish a ranking of the website transparency of leading public companies in different markets in the world to see how they are reflecting sustainability issues in an accessible way through their web platform. For the first few years, we covered the Israeli market only, but now, in partnership with the Center for CSR Development in Ukraine, we are expanding this into a global index which will be launched later this year. Web-based transparency is also influenced by the presence of a Sustainability Report.
In general, we find that companies which are on the sustainability journey are more ready to report because they have accepted that transparency is an inseparable part of the overall process. Often, they are subject to pressures from their customers or even competitive pressures to report. Those who have not, often talk about the complexity, cost and lack of investor pressure to report. However, these are companies who have not quite understood what Sustainability Reporting is all about. Even as an SME, you might say a micro-business, my consulting firm Beyond Business published a first Sustainability Report (which won an award as the Best SME Report in the global CRRA '12 Awards in April 2012), and we intend to report every two years. As a consulting firm, this is important for us to "practice what we preach" and demonstrate that any reason for not reporting on sustainability is simply an excuse and not a justification.
You are the author of the book ”CSR for HR: A Necessary Partnership for Advancing Responsible Business Practices”. Could you tell us in a few words what is the role played by the HR department in establishing a CSR strategy?
The Human Resources function in any business has an important leadership role to play in contributing to the definition and execution of sustainability strategy in any company, and also in establishing Human Resources practices which are sustainable. Sustainability done well requires changing the culture of the business. The Human Resources function has the specialist knowledge and skill to drive culture change processes.
From your experience, can you give us some examples of how businesses can become more sustainable? Do you admire any companies in particular for their approach towards sustainability?
I think the first thing is for a company to make the decision to define a clear strategy that integrates sustainability thinking into business processes and define what the desired outcome is. In the current line-up, it is hard not to ignore Unilever as a company which has made bold statements about sustainability, "decoupling" environmental impacts from corporate growth and trying to engage consumers in behavior change, with a CEO who is very vocal about the importance of this approach and carries much influence.
I think the important thing here is not to try to reduce sustainability to one single denomination. Sustainability is a complex set of factors and no company is totally perfect. As long as a company is stretching itself to do what it can from where it is, and making demonstrable progress, I have admiration for that.
How do you see the evolution and future of corporate social responsibility?
Over the coming years, I believe we will see more regulation around sustainability themes, especially transparency and reporting, and therefore the number of companies which deliver Sustainability Reports will increase substantially. This will have the effect of catalyzing sustainability performance and creating a new competitive threshold for all companies everywhere. Companies which do not participate in this movement will lose ground and become the exception.
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of : CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices (read more on www.csrforhr.com) Founding partner at BeyondBusiness Ltd (www.b-yond.biz/en) consulting to companies on CSR strategy, processes and sustainability communications.
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