Does a New CSR Buzzword Smell as Sweet?
August 8, 2011
Earlier this summer, I attended two CSR-related conferences â€“ the first was the annual
meeting of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) and the other
was a Social Innovation Summit at the United Nations. In both meetings, CSR
buzzwords bloomed like roses in spring.
Words like â€œsocial innovation,â€ â€œsustainable value creation,â€ â€œshared value creation,â€ â€œcross-sectoral collaboration,â€ â€œsustainability,â€ â€œsustainable partnerships,â€ â€œsupply chain management,â€ â€œknowledge sharingâ€ and â€œtransparencyâ€ were used every few minutes throughout the almost three days of meetings. Words like â€œgreen,â€ â€œphilanthropyâ€ and â€œsocial responsibilityâ€ were nowhere to be found.
The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which was founded by Paul Newman, recently issued a new report entitled, â€œBusiness at its Best: Driving Sustainable Value Creation.â€ In it, CECP suggests that Sustainable Value Creation â€œis a core business strategy that is focused on addressing fundamental societal needs by identifying new, scalable sources of competitive advantage that generate measureable profit and community benefit.â€
While I have some fundamental qualms about subjecting CSR to a â€œmeasureable profitâ€ test, if you change â€œmeasureable profitâ€ to â€œbusiness valueâ€ this definition isnâ€™t much different than those that have been used for â€œstrategic corporate philanthropyâ€ and â€œcorporate social responsibilityâ€ for the past twenty or thirty years (in other words, finding intersections between business interests and societal needs), but in the search for the next big thing, more and more buzzwords are created to mean much the same thing. And, perhaps not surprisingly, these new ideas and concepts are quickly embraced by consultants and practitioners alike in an effort to appear current.
The lone voice I heard speak against this proliferation of buzzwords was Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child, an organization that is trying to get inexpensive computers and tablets in the hands of school children. Negroponte argued that â€œsustainabilityâ€ â€“ with its constant expectation of metrics and measureable results -- is the really the wrong word. He encouraged those assembled to return to aspects of social responsibility that donâ€™t require constant measurement, but that we know work because of our experience as socially responsible managers and philanthropists.
The right road is probably the one in between. Letâ€™s measure what we do, but letâ€™s not go overboard. Some things we need to measure (like reducing our carbon footprint) and others are just the right things to do (like disaster relief). And, we can all do our part to cut down on the proliferation of buzzwords, as handy as they may be sometimes.
What do you think?