2020 has come, and yet another challenging year is ahead of us to intensify efforts towards bending the emissions curve, achieving more global equality, and managing resources more sustainably. If governments have failed to efficiently address the planetary challenges that marked the previous decade including climate change, rising inequalities and global political turmoil, the corporate sector is called upon now more than ever to take an ethical stand with respect to its responsibility towards the planet and its inhabitants. Corporate social responsibility, which has arisen over the past decade as the flagship “quick-win” answer to solving all kinds of social and environmental problems, has only left a bitter taste of dissatisfaction, incompleteness, and almost failure. Why? We believe this is more related to how the concept has been adopted than to its core essence.
In attempting to lessen their negative externalities, firms find generally safe harbor in starting various scattered initiatives around local communities, with the hope to enhance corporate image and to be more engaged in improving society. However, little might be expected of such initiatives in the absence of a holistic sustainability strategy that has a tangible link with the firm’s business and a measurable impact on the environment and society.
Creating positive and lasting impact goes beyond crafting an annual CSR program with half a dozen well-rounded local actions with a nice marketing campaign and a catchy annual report. More strikingly, corporate managers tend to confuse “impact” with “output” when it comes to social and environmental action. Numbers are good, yes, but they need to tell the things that matter most. It is good, for example, to learn that company X has provided 500 children in the icy mountains of the Atlas with a hot meal and some warm clothes. It is better, however, to assess the impact of such an initiative on transforming the lives of these kids and on making their existence more meaningful. No less important is, of course, the benefit of such actions on enhancing the firm’s public image and, collaterally, generating more revenue.
There are multiple misfunctioning elements in our approach to corporate responsibility, and now is the time to embrace a new form of truly ethical CSR. This new form of responsibility must recognize the limits of our existing development models and must challenge our understanding of achievement and impact. This must be an approach that replaces short-term actions with long-term strategies, punctual benefit with life-long effect, and calculated outputs with equilibrium, meaning, and impact.
Educator and Social Entrepreneur