When CR and Business Objectives Conflict (contd)

I am on my way home from an excellent conference run by The Ethical Corporation in New York. As I described in my post yesterday, we had a great discussion on the topic of when CR and business objectives conflict. We split up into table groups to share some of our more challenging experiences and examples in a safe space. While in the spirit of the safe space we created I am not going to share any examples that are not already public knowledge, I identified some common categories of action from the examples discussed:


1) Grasp the nettle/bite the bullet; The company takes a bold leap and tackles the issue head on, gambling that the aggressive approach will pay off in the long term. Disney’s recent commitment to refuse taking advertising for foods that don’t meet defined nutritional standards and Patagonia’s ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ advert from their common threads campaign are great examples


2) Level the Playing Field; In situations in which it is the best interests of all players to act, but could be a short term competitive disadvantage for one to act alone (due to possible increased costs) a solution is to create an even playing field by acting together. We see this with the soft drinks companies working together to remove sodas from schools through the American Beverage Association and companies in the UK working together through the Confederation of British Industry Climate Change Task Force supporting government regulation of carbon emissions (chaired by BT’s then CEO Ben Verwaayan!).


3) Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good; We heard an example of an auto manufacturer that was not willing to stop production of its largest vehicles, but instead focused its fuel efficiency attention on that class of vehicles. This offered better returns on carbon reduction than focusing energy efficiency efforts on smaller vehicles.


 4) Educate the stakeholder; The company takes a leadership role in educating consumers. One participant referred to the strength of taboos in society. Through raising awareness of societal issues, good nutrition for example, companies can build new taboos that address sustainability needs and build demand for the healthier product they would like to make but that the market does not currently support.


5) Be transparent; Proceed with the activity, but be transparent about the profit and sustainability motives that have had to be balanced and the compromises made to reach the conclusion. This generates trust and understanding and indicates accountability.


And what about the responsibility of the practitioner in these situations where corporate responsibility conflicts with profit ? I heard a broad consensus that the practitioner has a much more sophisticated role than to spin the best story possible out of a bad situation. But also that we are not a police force there to root out and demand cessation of every activity that doesn’t meet our standards. Our role is to continually increase transparency, understanding, awareness and accountability.


We heard many examples where the corporate responsibility practitioner had settled for less than their ideal solution, but achieved more than would have been achieved without their involvement. We need to live to fight another day and if standing our ground too aggressively or resigning on a point of principle loses our voice from the table completely, it is not the right thing to do.


Do you have other examples to share that will help others ? Or were you at the conference ? Please add your thoughts and other opinions below.

  1. Comments 5

  2. Aman Singh 6:15 am on July 2, 2012

    Good wrap up Kevin. Thank you. Here's the CROA study I had referred to: Are CSR Practitioners Apathetic? http://www.csrwire.com/blog/posts/361-the-csr-profession-new-report-indicates-shifting-gears-for-csr-2-0

  3. Priti Ambani 7:29 pm on July 3, 2012

    Hi Kevin- This really was a great conference. The most striking thought that resonated with me was the fact the CSR is being embedded within businesses for the most part. The discussion you and Aman moderated was also very engaging. I found through the discussions that when there was a conflict between CR and business objectives, most companies created a new market avenue/service or product. Great to see innovation trump business as usual. Thanks! Priti @envirotarian

  4. Brent Hardy 3:59 pm on July 11, 2012

    Educating stakeholders is really critical. We are not yet "fully embedded" with our programs, so we have to show a postive ROI over a relatively short-term. Increased stakeholder awareness and commitment would help lengthen the term for the ROI calculation.

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