Business Case for CSRReader Rating: 4.50Star

Corporate social responsibility is about the integration of social, environmental, and economic considerations into the decision-making structures and processes of business. It is about using innovation to find creative and value-added solutions to societal and environmental challenges. It is about engaging shareholders and other stakeholders and collaborating with them to more effectively manage potential risks and build credibility and trust in society. It is about not only complying with the law in a due diligent way but also about taking account of society’s needs and finding more effective ways to satisfy existing and anticipated demands in order to build more sustainable businesses. Ultimately, it is about delivering improved shareholder and debtholder value, providing enhanced goods and services for customers, building trust and credibility in the society in which the business operates, and becoming more sustainable over the longer term. Is there a business case for CSR , and if so, what is it?

While there are different ways to frame the benefits because they are interrelated, they generally include the following:

  • stronger financial performance and profitability through operational efficiency gains
  • improved relations with the investment community and better access to capital
  • enhanced employee relations that yield better results respecting recruitment, motivation, retention, learning and innovation, and productivity
  • stronger relationships with communities and enhanced licence to operate
  • improved reputation and branding

Stronger Financial Performance and Profitability

Businesses can use CSR and corporate sustainability to produce direct benefits for the bottom line. For example, operational efficiencies can be achieved through reducing energy and materials as input factors for production. Wastes can also be reduced and materials can be recycled. These sorts of actions from eco-efficiency can produce concurrent environmental and economic benefits for the company and thereby contribute to stronger financial performance and more positive profitability. Operational efficiencies can be achieved in other facets of CSR such as streamlining the way that information is provided to the investment community as well as to other stakeholders that demand increased transparency. Managing potential risks and liabilities more effectively through CSR tools and perspectives can also reduce costs. Using corporate responsibility and sustainability approaches within business decision-making can result not only in reduced costs but can also lead to recognizing new market opportunities such as when new manufacturing processes are developed that can be expanded to other plants, regions or markets. There are various studies that have examined the relationship between CSR and corporate financial performance and most of the evidence suggests that the links are positive.

Improved Relations With the Investment Community and Better Access to Capital

The investment community has been exploring the links between corporate social responsibility and financial performance of businesses. There is growing evidence (through indices such as the Dow Jones Group Sustainability Index (DJGSI), the FTSE4 Good indices, and the Jantzi Social Index) that companies that embrace the essential qualities of CSR generally outperform their counterparts that do not use features of CSR . This information is being translated into action within the investment community (e.g. with creation of funds such as Socially Responsible Investment, Domini Social Equity Fund, EcoValue 21). An increasing number of mutual funds are now integrating CSR criteria into their selection processes to screen in sounder companies and/or screen out businesses that do not meet certain environmental or social standards. Thus, a CSR approach by a company can improve the stature of the company in the perspective of the investment community, a company’s stock market valuation, and its capacity to access capital from that community.

Enhanced Employee Relations, Productivity and Innovation

A key potential benefit from CSR initiatives involves establishing the conditions that can contribute to increasing the commitment and motivation of employees to become more innovative and productive. Companies that employ CSR related perspectives and tools tend to be businesses that provide the pre-conditions for increased loyalty and commitment from employees. These conditions can serve to help to recruit employees, retain employees, motivate employees to develop skills, and encourage employees to pursue learning to find innovative ways to not only reduce costs but to also spot and take advantage of new opportunities for maximizing benefits, reduce absenteeism, and may also translate into marginally less demands for higher wages.

Stronger Relations Within Communities Through Stakeholder Engagement

A key feature of CSR involves the way that a company engages, involves, and collaborates with its stakeholders including shareholders, employees, debtholders, suppliers, customers, communities, non-governmental organizations, and governments. To the extent that stakeholder engagement and collaboration involve maintaining an open dialogue, being prepared to form effective partnerships, and demonstrating transparency (through measuring, accounting, and reporting practices), the relationship between the business and the community in which it operates is likely to be more credible and trustworthy. This is a potentially important benefit for companies because it increases their "licence to operate", enhances their prospects to be supported over the longer term by the community, and improves their capacity to be more sustainable. Companies can use stakeholder engagement to internalize society’s needs, hopes, circumstances into their corporate views and decision-making. While there are many questions about how far a company’s responsibilities extend into communities relative to the roles of governments and individual citizens, there is a strong argument that CSR can effectively improve a company’s relations with communities and thereby produce some key features that will improve business prospects for its future

Improved Reputation and Branding

A potential benefit of CSR is that it can improve a company’s reputation and branding and this in turn improves the prospects for the company to be more effective in the way that it manages communications and marketing in efforts to attract new customers and increase market share. CSR as a concept with various tools can help a company to position itself in the marketplace as a company that is more responsible and more sustainable than its competitors.

Note: A Word on CSR as an Investment

CSR can be viewed by businesses as a form of investment that helps to differentiate a company and its goods and services.

What then is the right way to look at CSR as an investment - particularly given that it frequently involves intangible and less quantifiable domains. The bottom line is that a prudent business may tend to regard CSR in the same way it treats most investment decisions. It would be inclined to use the same systematic approach to assess the anticipated benefits and related revenues relative to the costs that it employs for investment proposals. A rigorous and systematic approach to CSR investment is likely to yield the most positive results for both the business and society as it is likely to demonstrate the most efficient allocation of resources from the perspective of both the firm and society.

There are many different areas where a firm can invest to develop CSR attributes (e.g. human resource management, environmental protection, health and safety, community involvement, etc.). Investment decisions on CSR need to take account of various factors and parameters as well as the anticipated cost and benefit stream to be produced by the investment.

For further information on business, for example:

Bob Willard: Business The Sustainability Advantage

"Selling the Sustainability Business Value Proposition"--A seminar presentation by Dr. Bob Willard

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