Sustainability and sustainable development are now common phrases, but organisations use many other terms, to describe their approach to environmental and social issues.
Phrases such as Corporate Responsibility (CR), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability (CRS) and Corporate Citizenship are commonly used and are often assumed to have a variety of different meanings and emphases. In the financial sector ESG (environmental, social and governance) is used for the evaluation of non-financial performance indicators for corporate behaviour and the future financial performance of companies.
Our opinion is that, at their heart, all of these terms refer to the management of environmental and social performance alongside economic performance.
Corporate Social Responsibility is sometimes seen as a softer version of sustainability; perhaps focussed more upon social rather than environmental performance or upon the PR and philanthropic elements of organisational behaviour. However, it can equally support a robust and ambitious set of activities and plans if it is understood as an organisation's responsibility to perceive and respond to trends, demands, future challenges and opportunities.
Meaningful CSR (or any other such activity) should: be focussed upon core business, address the fundamental dependencies that an organisation relies upon in order to function (resources, energy, a capable workforce, customers able to make purchasing decisions), be able to demonstrate performance applicable to the company as a whole (not just anecdotes and stray examples) and be capable of verification by independent third parties.
In essence therefore, the words that an organisation uses to describe its approach are less important than the way it understands and interprets the implications of environmental and social issues for future activity, demonstrates engagement and interest in the views and desires of stakeholders, displays ambition, understands the value of leadership through individual action and partnership and demonstrates progress over time.
It's not what you call it but what you do that matters!
Sustainability strategy and management – focus on the important issues and key leverage points.
Telling your story – engage your staff, communicate your efforts and progress through sustainability and CSR reporting.