Corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate conscience, corporate citizenship, responsible business. There are many names for this concept, but what does any of it mean?
CSR is a business or management concept where companies participate in initiatives that benefits environmental and social elements in society. Pretty wordy. Some companies view this quite simply as "Don't be evil". Others take this a step further and go "We can make the world a better place."
The simplest approach to CSR is literally just donating to charity. Other common practices include attempting to reduce their carbon footprint or community projects such as funding schools or hospitals. CSR even includes employee treatment and management.
There has been a growing trend for companies to adopt CSR. Why? A very cynical view is it looks good for the company. A more positive view is these companies really do care and want to make a difference in the world. Either way, CSR is being adopted by more and more companies all over the world.
So what does this mean for New Zealand?
New Zealand has always had a reputation for being clean and green. It is very easy for us to reaffirm this belief when we go wandering in the countryside or just live outside of Auckland. The cynic in me has always seen this is because we are a very small country in terms of population though not really in land mass size (we are comparable to the UK and Japan in landmass).
How true is this reputation though? The answer is not great for us. Looking at some statistics from the OECD on NZ, we don't perform very well. Looking at education, CO2 emmissions per capita or income equality, we come out to be pretty middling. We're alright. Definitely not the worst but not the best.
So how does this tie into CSR? CSR is the easiest way for a difference to be made. For the average person by themselves, they want things to be better, happy and good. However, most of these people are unable to really get anything going by themselves, whether it's time, resources, or just connections. Companies have an advantage from this standpoint.
CSR is merely devoting time and resources from the profits you make to the betterment of society as a whole. In comparison to individuals, companies have more resources to put into this enterprise. Even better, it can empower individuals to make a difference.
New Zealand is not doing well in terms of environmental responsibility for two social reasons. The every day person cares but does not understand how to make the change is one reason. The other is most businessesare not taking enough responsibility with CSR.
In this modern tech age, young people entering the work force are more likely to gravitate to companies which have a better reputation in terms of CSR, whether it's employee benefits and healthcare, or making a difference in the community or environment. Having a good CSR reputation means it's easier to attract and recuit the best of the best.
Why this matters especially to New Zealand is because we have a reputation. People from other countries look at us and think "Wow, look how clean and green they are. It's so nice." We have a responsibility to make sure that is true. In doing so, as a country, we have a unique opportunity to set a standard on how sustainability and renewability can be implemented in the world.
This all starts with CSR and companies accepting the responsibility to do this.
Two examples, one overseas, the other local
Examples are always a nice way to look at topics so let's begin with a big local one:
When you first think of Westpac, you just think oh yeah the bank, Then you remember they sponsor the rescue helicopters. You also remember/find out they are a global leader for banking in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. So, what did they do?
Through a very quick Google search, you can quickly arrive at a sustainability report by Westpac. There is also a full pdf of this report further down the page. If you don't want to click through here are their highlights:
- We reduced our carbon emissions, now more than 35% lower than in 2008 when we first started tracking our emissions profile
- Our total community contributions were approximately $4.99m
- We raised $1.38 million during the annual Westpac Rescue Chopper Appeal.
- More than 93,000 New Zealanders have taken part in our ‘Managing Your Money’ financial education programme since 2009.
- Increasing women in leadership positions at Westpac New Zealand from 43.1% to 44.2%. We were also awarded the top prize at the inaugural YWCA Equal Pay Awards
- We successfully piloted the ‘Money Skills’ financial education programme for South Auckland and Christchurch families struggling with their finances
- We continued to support the growth of the emerging clean technology sector through actively identifying and meeting the needs of young green businesses
- Our Westpac New Zealand Limited's employees contributed to saving 987 lives through donations to the New Zealand Blood Service
Right at the bottom of this page it goes on to link to reports to the previous years.
Why I list Westpac NZ as an example is because they cover many fields. They aren't just doing one thing and saying well we're done. If you read through that list above, you see they invest in educating people, reducing their evironmental impact, attempting to improve equality and sponsorships in the community.
This is an effort to be applauded because this is the most direct way of giving back to community/world you are in and is bettering the lives of others.
Now we'll move onto one of my favourite examples, the NBA (National Basketball Association). The NBA is a North American basketball league containing thirty teams.
The NBA CSR comes in the form the of NBA Cares program and Basketball without Borders. Both these programmes heavily encourage player participation and each team also has programmes in their local communities.
Basketball without Borders is an overseas programme that is aimed at underdeveloped countries. In association with FIBA, they are bringing basketball to kids and schools who would otherwise have no opportunities to experience the sport.
NBA Cares covers a larger framework of different activities. Most of them are educational, even if they have nothing to do with basketball. One such programme is a literacy programme in youth. A basketball related one is the summer training camps for kids which include participation from NBA players, coaches and trainers.
Why I personally really like about these NBA programmes, is they are trying to help the people who help them. Quite a few athletes come from impoverished backgrounds or are from a country in Africa. The NBA encourages these players to contribute and help out with these areas. Many players have set up foundations or charities to make the lives of people better in these places.
Even though this isn't a New Zealand example, I bring this up because it is a good example of how an organisation can enable people to contribute and to personally get involved.The example it sets to players and people, mean in turn these players and people are more likely to get start their own ways of helping others.
So after all these examples and talks about CSR, what does it mean for sustainability and the future for New Zealand?
As I mentioned earlier, I still think the easiest way for New Zealand to truly become what our reputation says is for more companies to adopt better CSR. It is much easier for those with more resources and time to create change than an individual who is lost in their every day lives.
Take a look at our report on the future of sustainability and cleantech in New Zealand by clicking on the link below.