Proving our Commitment: The Evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada

Jan 10, 2012 9:00 AM ET

The following editorial by Rob Moore, Interim President & CEO of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), appeared in the Corporate Citizens special report in the National Post on December 29, 2011.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is about a company’s commitment to integrating social and environmental sustainability into their operations.

It is about returning a profit to shareholders while recognizing the interests of stakeholders, including customers, business partners, local communities, the environment and employees.

The CSR discussion in Canada began over a decade ago, driven mostly by reputational and regulation risks, and has evolved into a more complex debate driven by rapidly increasing population, diminishing resources, effects of changing climate, and health impacts of polluted air and water. In order to deal with these new challenges, the CSR debate has evolved from businesses managing risk to the new role business must play in transitioning to integrating positive environmental, social and community impact into their profit generating programs.

There are three factors driving this evolution from doing less bad to harvesting the power of corporations as tools of positive impact, leading to new expectations and corresponding engagement and disclosure from corporations.

Globalization: The world economy is transitioning and realigning at an unprecedented scale. Many companies operate in a world where the value chain is global in its reach. An organization’s actions have a farreaching impact on communities and ecosystems. Likewise organizations are impacted by activities occurring beyond their control. There is always risk associated with the uncertainty, but also opportunities for wider reaching impact.

Technology: Exponentially increasing access to information through monitoring, sharing and crowd sourcing tools. This creates a keener sense of awareness of corporate impact, and is driving CSR to a whole new level of transparency, accountability and a requirement for action.

Lack of government intervention: The paradigm of the state or government as sole regulator is diminishing. Companies, NGOs and community groups are becoming primary drivers of sustainability through innovation, strategic partnerships and advocacy.

For almost a decade, CBSR has been gathering industry and thought leaders to explore CSR issues of importance to corporate Canada. A few months ago, the CSR community gathered at CBSR’s 9th Annual Summit to explore the roles, responsibilities, and perceptions of Canadian businesses outside of Canada’s borders. The panels and attendees discussed the need for business to go beyond returning a profit to shareholders; and actions required to respond to the challenge of managing, mitigating and improving environmental and social impact for Canada to lead in the 21st century.

Historically, Canada was seen as a problem-solver and a leader on the world stage. Today, our environmental and social performance has come under scrutiny and criticism from the international community—from the Keystone XL pipeline; our decision to withdraw from Kyoto; or the local impact of an individual company’s operations in other parts of the world.

The message was clear. We need big ideas and strategic partnerships that will yield a major environmental and/or social innovation in the next 10 years. The following main themes emerged:

  • The need to foster innovation and provide funding for entrepreneurs is critical for generating solutions to address today’s complex problems.

  • Large scale, transparent and strategic partnerships between government, corporations, NGOs and communities.

  • Building capacity in developing nations on the individual, institutional and community levels to create a social license to operate and a lasting positive impact.

  • Effective corporate leaders who take responsibility and have courage and commitment to engage in difficult conversations.

Canadian business has an opportunity to play a leadership role on the world stage when it comes to environmental and social performance. Canadian diplomatic and pragmatic values and perspectives are welcomed internationally. Now we need to lead the conversation on solving global problems collaboratively, leverage the transformative capabilities of private enterprise and have the courage to take bold steps.

Rob Moore has served on the CBSR Board of Directors since 2005, and was appointed interim CEO of CBSR in October 2011. On behalf of the Board, he is leading a strategic review of the organization, including the recruitment of a permanent CEO. Most recently Rob was the Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Stakeholder Relations at Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). For more on Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), please visit

Reproduced with permission.