How Far the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement Has Come

Aug 18, 2011 3:00 PM ET

The CBSR Blog

By Andrea Baldwin

As I reflect on my past three years at CBSR, I am struck by how far the Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability movement has come. As we work in the trenches, it is sometimes hard to appreciate just how much transformation has taken place both in our personal lives and across the corporate sector. It is worth taking a minute to congratulate each other on our progress.

Like many of you, my life straddles a couple of worlds – most specifically, my roles of mother and business consultant.

As parents, we care deeply about the social, environmental and health impacts of  products that we purchase and lifestyle choices we make. I am lucky to be able to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and make an earnest effort to do the right thing. We were early subscribers to green power, make organic choices at our supermarket, and support community initiatives. My kids have even been known to use ‘water savings’ as a way to avoid a bath!  The thing is, most of my friends are doing this as well – and have been for several years. We’ve moved past the ‘business case conversation’ of why it is worth it, to the how. And we are doing this by sharing tips, making informed choices, and integrating sustainability into our daily lives. 

Business feels like it is catching up but following a similar path. I was with a group of CSR practitioners recently and we talked about our ‘Two Solitudes’: those who get sustainability, and those who don’t. At times, our work still feels almost missionary – educating colleagues, sharing success stories, evangelizing the benefits – anything to make it easier and less heroic to be sustainable. Sometimes that gets tedious and we forget to recognize just how far the movement has come. 

Summer is a good time for socializing and inevitably my business conversations turn to CSR. I am struck by how the discussion has changed over the last couple of years. The conversations usually start tentatively with me trying to figure out their ‘solitude’ so to speak. For those ‘in the know’, we forgo the business case conversation on ‘why’ and focus on the ‘how’. What is working for you in your industry, what are the best sources of information and guidance, what needs to happen at the system level to make substantive and sustained change… In other words, how do we move this complex issue forward and work together to do so most efficiently? The discussion is business focused, practical and refreshing. 

For those not yet in the know, the conversation has shifted from indulgence to genuine interest, from skepticism to curiosity about what it means to their business. Yes, the business case of “why” is still at the forefront, but now, with a willingness to be convinced. That is progress for the movement and an open door for more conversation. Let’s recognize it as an opportunity and seize it.  

It is an exciting time to be a CSR professional. Take a moment to celebrate how far the movement has come. And then get ready for the next wave of opportunity… things are getting exciting!