I've been having two very interesting debates this past week about Wal-Mart's Sustainability Index and separately on India's business leaders mulling creating some sort of a quantitative CSR credits system that can be traded on an exchange. Both, highly debatable discussions, received passionate comments from people in the field here on In Good Company and had Twittersphere all in twitters(?)!
Some of the comments were passionate while others pointed out clear misconceptions in even thinking of creating a commoditized CSR credits exchange systems. One reader said, "The richness and arguably the point of CSR is to engage in activities that have a relationship with the overarching corporate strategy. The purchasing of credit activities can result in the commodification of good work - which ultimately cheapens it and should raise skepticism on the part of all stakeholders." Another read took a more practical approach saying that the proposed system would require a methodology that would defeat the purpose of "doing good." " I agree that while the CSR credits term has more headline appeal than real-world applicability, coming up with quantifiable metrics remains a challenge."
I also tossed out the statement that while hollow in its approach, the attempt to address CSR by India, a country where politics overrules news every day, must be commended, leaving some food for thought for American businesses to take note of. A reader picked up on this as well, saying that maybe the change needed for companies to see it as "efforts to be more sustainable" because those are more transparently measured and therefore easier for companies to introduce. "However, as you point out, identifying the "intangibles" and agreeing upon areas of direct impact are a first step...it's more tangible for companies to understand sustainability largely due to the fact that it focuses on key elements that directly map back to business results. The challenge remains on how to more directly then correlate the intangibles into meaningful progress on a company's business."
I couldn't have said it better myself. But Dave Harrhy left us with the profoundest of thought on the issue: that numbers take the heart out of goodness, which is essentially what CSR must imply: doing good for your community, society, employees and the environment. In his words, "Part of this rankles though, and it is the external frame of reference that is bothersome. If we return to the notion of having a truly value based organization, then one assumes (and hopes) that the profit margin is not the only thing that is valued, and that social or environmental investment is not seen only as a means to an end, but is part of the end itself."
" The danger of commodifying good work, is that this exercise in itself diminishes the value of the work. I recognize that this is not "business speak" but frankly doing work without an intent to give, but actually to only continue taking, in order to increase profits can only be short lived. Green washing in the environmental movement has been called out a long time ago, consumers and other stakeholders have denounced PR efforts by big oil to buy their way out of being "shady". I would think that if an organization only chooses to buy good work, without engaging in good work - the same will happen. "
"Internalizing the CSR value proposition means exposing the heart of the organization rather than just the wallet."
I'll leave you to think over these comments. They bring up many issues that Corporate Social Responsibility experts and advocates continue to dissect, analyze and elaborate on as more businesses begin to take note of their stakeholders and realize that the only way forward is to become responsible. And accountable. And thank you to all of you for making this a great discussion! Here's to hoping that we continue to have many more discussions In Good Company! Follow us on Twitter at @VaultCSR and if you have anything to add to this discussion, leave us a comment of email VaultCSR!
Next week, stay tuned as I discuss the role culture plays in CSR and how one must adapt to the other locally for it have a global effect.