8 Fallacies About CSR That I’ve Heard This Week

This past week I’ve run into a lot of misconceptions about social responsibility and business.  Taken from conversations with professionals “outside the sector” to those influencing it, from articles, blog posts and comments, here are this week’s top-eight fallacies about corporate social responsibility (CSR).
  1. It’s a new movement, so there’s time before my company needs to get involved.
    “New” may be relative, so semantically,  I’ll let that stand, but standing to the side to observe whether this “trend” will stick is already proving a poor business strategy. CSR isn’t an emotional (or guilt) driven program; it’s a pragmatic approach to maximizing stakeholder value. Here’s a quick look at 15 benefits.
  2. CSR = a giving or employee volunteer program.
    CSR is a comprehensive strategy, of which employee volunteer projects and clothing drives can play a part.
  3. It robs shareholders.
    Used correctly as a strategy to grow a business (through innovation, market growth, secure supply lines, alternative resource use, risk mitigation, etc.) CSR enhances a company’s value and shareholder profits.
  4. CSR is about reputation and cozying up to consumers.
    As the most public-facing side of CSR, publicity and marketing get a lot of attention, and no doubt, they’re key benefits of running a sustainable business. But they’re far from the whole enchilada.
  5. You can charge more for social good.
    Having a social mission can “open the door” and start a conversation with potential customers, but to win the deal, companies absolutely need to be competitive on quality and price.
  6. Conscious capitalism is a diversion that makes consumers feel they’ve done their part.
    This is an interesting argument and while I think specific instances support it, it’s a cop out. Capitalism isn’t the ultimate solution, but it’s a powerful tool to wield societal and environmental change.
  7. Milton Friedman says….
    Every debate on corporate social responsibility includes Friedman’s stance that a business’s social responsibility is to increase its profits. With due respect to the Nobel Prize winner, that was 39 years and 11 months ago, at a time when cars spewed uncapped emissions and doctors endorsed cigarettes. Times have changed.
  8. Everybody already knows the value of running a sustainable business.
    This is my own misconception, which became clear this week as I talked with people outside of my social business cocoon. There’s still a lot of leading-by-example, data collection and storytelling to be done, and while I believe it’s inevitable, I’m all for doing my part to press on the accelerator.

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  1. Ben August 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    Great list. My favourite fallacy is that CSR is a marketing strategy. I say ‘favourite’, I mean fallacy ‘most likely to have me crying inside’.

  2. Olivia Khalili August 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    I’m with you, Ben. Thanks for weighing in.