The other day I met with my good friend Karin Lange who is driving corporate social responsibility for Die Mobiliar, a large insurance company in Switzerland. Over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake she talked passionately about how CSR is making an impact not just for companies but for all of us.
This ‘interview’ was fascinating and gave me a good understanding what is happening in this space. So let’s see what she had to say.
“In the beginning, responsible businesses looked like they were going to save the world. I remember well when a new type of socially and environmentally benevolent companies began to pop up. The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Switcher, to name only a few, claimed to care for the environment and humanity – they wanted to change the way doing business into a socially responsible way.
Almost three decades later it’s rare to find a (bigger) company that doesn’t offer some kind of responsibility activity – almost all of them created an office or a department to deal with Corporate Social Responsibility and told it to grow the CSR initiatives. But by compartmentalizing the approach from the company’s actually daily business, these programs became either defensive CSR (for pollution prone companies, also called green washing), charitable CSR (helping many small projects with no bigger impact), promotional CSR (self-congratulatory initiatives) – and nothing meaningful really happened.
Appearance mostly overruled honesty and action – and too many firms simply use CSR as window dressing to help them look better in an increasingly informed world. And very few of them really walk the talk according to this definition: CSR is the way in which business consistently creates shared value in society through economic development, good governance, stakeholder responsiveness and environmental improvement. In other words: CSR is an integrated, systemic approach by business that builds, rather than erodes or destroys, economic, social, human and natural capital.
Well – it’s true that it is quite a demand to make for companies listed at the stock exchange…Shareholders intervene violently if something’s done that’s not creating immediate profit. Financial analysts are waiting like hawks on the hunt for every bit of information that might enable them to influence the share price. Understanding this correlation, it’s easy to deduct why Corporate Social Responsibility never took off the way our world needs it. And in addition, CSR was over the years drowned in a flood of codes and standards (including the new ISO 26000 standard) that encouraged a tick-box approach. Rankings need comparable standards – and if appearance rules, everybody wants to be high up. CSR became a check-list business. And the urge to prove credibly to have filled all the right check-boxes created a deluge of labels: Fair trade, Organic, Biodegradable – there are close to 500 Eco labels and even more sustainability certifications.
A whole new industry was created, making money out of certifying companies to be good corporate citizens. But our global social and environmental problems are complex and intractable. They don’t need certificates – but creative solutions. And these solutions need to be scalable to have a global impact.
Impossible to solve – apart from those few firms taking CSR seriously? Maybe – but times are changing and parameters are shifting, possibly into the right direction. And the buzz word “CSR 2.0” can be heard and read more and more often. This is due to a demographic shift accompanied by sociological changes.
Generation Y and Z are more and more missing what the baby boomers and maybe even the millennials were still experiencing: competition. Becoming fewer and fewer in numbers, being wooed by companies looking for young talents and consumer business alike, they don’t have to be the best, fastest, smartest and most beautiful to get what they want. They are not afraid to be laid off – and not being scared to lose your livelihood enables to speak up and phrase their demands. Add the different socialization to the equation – this generation grew up with global warming, the energy crisis as well as banking greed, financial market greed, corporate greed, the latter resulting in a global recession – and you get a completely different approach corporate responsibility.
Generation Z sees and handles their world completely different.
And this might give Corporate Social Responsibility a reals: If more companies create new business according to the CSR 2.0 definition, this term might become obsolete as its parameters become intrinsically tied to successful business.
And I’m happy to work for Die Mobiliar – an insurance company with a cooperative
background – acting and doing business in CSR 2.0 manner ever since it was founded.”