A Holistic CSR Program Means No Half-Measures

How would you define a holistic ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) program? A holistic CSR initiative is one that builds “good” into core business DNA to bring about social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Three Pillars of CSR. Image credit: Priti Ambani

How do we bring about the above sustainability? There are different ways and that is not the subject of this post. The question here is – Can a CSR initiative be complete without either of the below?

  • Social sustainability
  • Economic sustainability
  • Environmental sustainability

Time and again we see CSR initiatives from large and small companies that are not “wholesome”. The above three are what I want to call the three pillars of CSR. They are so tightly intertwined, that it is impossible to tackle one without including the others.

  • If your business uplifted your community and created a new market for your product or service, without environmental concern- you have only thought about CSR as a means to capture new opportunities. This gain in economics will soon deflate because both the social structure and the planet will not be able to support it.
  • If you are being responsible to your community and the environment and have no economic gains, you no longer are a business and CSR does not apply to you.
  • If you have great environmental score and your balance sheet looks good but the society has lost due to your business, you have just invited lawsuits that tarnish your brand, leading to a collapse again.

Every CSR program needs to address the three core pillars, without which the program is not integrated nor is it CSR. Most companies are unwilling to swallow the fact that effective CSR will ultimately make their consumers buy less of their product, because its intelligent, durable and used effectively. They fail to see the opportunity in this model and are unable to innovate. Under these circumstances they have ignored the main environmental concern, hence their CSR initiative is only superficial. It takes smart leadership to navigate these fears and convince partners and stakeholders.

The above principles do not differentiate between small, medium or large enterprises. If your company produces a service that is not people or planet friendly in the long run, your CSR program needs to address those issues. By merely greening your supply chain or providing better packaging, you have not met the requirements of a holistic CSR program. It’s a good start, but to truly make a difference, the business core needs to be sustainable.

This is by no means an easy effort on any front. It requires-

  • Vision
  • Commitment
  • Effective Leadership, Employee Buy-in &
  • Innovation

A well thought-out CSR initiative will help cut costs, make the program more effective and through positive feedback, will result in gains in all sectors. Acknowledging and addressing all the key impacts of your business will bring credibility and reduce “greenwashing” allegations. This in turn increases brand value and economic gains, thus reinforcing the positive cycle.

Finally: Get a “wholehearted” approach to CSR and the gains will follow.

About the Author

Hi there! I am Priti and I specialize in strategy and communications for impact organizations that aim to create social, environmental and economic wealth for all stakeholders. Working from the ground up, I help these do-gooders craft effective programs for community engagement, outreach and profitability. Follow my work covering do-gooders, cleanweb, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses on Ecopreneurist and at Crowdsourcing Week. I enjoy traveling with my boys, cooking up a gourmet meal from scratch and entertaining! Join my community for Social Entrepreneurs on G+ Follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Google+