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What's in a (CSR) Name?

March 4, 2013

When I first wrote about the proliferation of CSR buzzwords and ways to describe the work that companies do as good corporate citizens (see my posting of August 8, 2011), I decried the use of new monikers like "shared value creation" and "cross-sectoral collaborations" rather than the more "traditional" descriptors like "philanthropy" and "corporate social responsibility."

At the time, I didn't really have any research to back up my assertions about name proliferation -- so I was pleased to see a recent research study conducted by the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) regarding the titles given to annual reports by companies about their environmental and social responsibility activities.

According to the study – entitled Citizenship, Responsibility or Sustainability?, six different naming conventions were discovered: Responsibility, Sustainability, Citizenship, Annual, Environmental and HSE (short for Health, Safety and Environment). And, each of these conventions had themes and variations like: Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Social Responsibility and Global Responsibility.

In the study's sample, Responsibility was used in nearly 40% of the reports, followed by 31% using the term Sustainability and 22% using Citizenship. The remaining 8% used either Annual, Environmental or HSE. From these results, it appears that Responsibility is the leading term used in the field.

Among the reports using Citizenship, 80% used Global Citizenship and 20% used Corporate Citizenship. Among the reports using the Responsibility convention,61% used Corporate Responsibility (this is the term that American Express uses for its CSR reports) with Corporate Social Responsibility following with 22%. Social Responsibility and Global Responsibility were used by 11% and 6% respectively.

The report notes that none of the Sustainability Reports had a variation – making these titles the "purist" of any of the conventions.

So, what's in a name? It may be, not much.

If we are all talking about the same thing – corporations acting responsibly and as good citizens – then the only real differences are in the motivations -- helping society, helping the company or helping both – and which is the primary driving force. I tend to come down in the "helping both" camp, recognizing that some activities primarily help society and others primarily help the reputation of the company. The right balance, it seems, is everything – no matter what you call it. It stills smells as sweet.

What do you think? If you have a comment or question, please share it here. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter @tmcclimonCSRNow and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing!

P.S. Did you know that BCLC is a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and it serves as a resource to businesses and their social and philanthropic interests?


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