Creating Shared Value – Is it Corporate Responsibility?

On Monday last week I attended an excellent roundtable organized by the World Environment Center (WEC) and Dow at the National Press Club in DC. The topic was Creating Shared Value (CSV) and the excellent keynote presentation was by Mark Kramer, one of the authors of the January 2011 paper on the topic in the Harvard Business Review.

CSV is a hot topic in the field that I gather, from this blog post by Aman Singh,  and others I have read, and was covered widely at BRC and NetImpact too. The WEC event was excellent with great speakers all around, including John Bee of Nestle, who put a comment on my blog only two days earlier (thanks John!). A great mix of for-profit, academic and not-for-profit and a valuable balance of time allowed for Q&A and open discussion.

CSV offers a wonderful opportunity for progress at the intersection of profitability and meeting societal and environmental needs. I feel sure that it will result in new ways for companies to think about how they invest, where they expand, what they sell.

Studying industrial management at university many years ago I recall looking at various frameworks developing strategy and creating innovation. Such tools as SWOT analysis and market expansion approaches (geographic or adjacencies) come to mind. I even recall learning about using nature’s processes as inspiration for innovation!

I think of CSV as a variation of this theme – a new way of looking for market expansion and innovation opportunities. By itself, that is business as usual as far as I am concerned.  We need more than that for CSV to be substantive in the world of CSR and sustainability. I believe there are two components that need to be highlighted;

  • Included initiatives must be shown to have a net positive impact on society and the environment.  Identifying a single societal or environmental good that derives from a business opportunity is not by itself sufficient. That’s just good marketing.
  • Proponents of CSV must address the question of what to do when profit does not align with societal or environment good. Just addressing the intersection of good with good (good profit with good societal contribution) is not sufficient. The hard question is addressing the conflicts when the two do not align. In fact, if CSV diverts attention away from that hard question it could serve to be more of a liability than a benefit in the field

CSV is a great start point to build support for the wider role of the business in society. But to be of sustainable value to corporate responsibility we must see it as the start point and not the end game.

(See Marc Gunther’s thoughts on the topic “Shared Value; Is there a there there” here)

  1. Comments 4

  2. Cathie Guthrie 11:49 am on November 18, 2011

    Kevin, I can't help but agree with your concern about the risk of CSV functioning as a diversion from a complex set of interdependent and integrated functions which we would like to hold accountable for having an impact. Thanks for a good read! Cathie

  3. Caroline Kawashima 12:02 pm on November 18, 2011

    Great post, Kevin. Agree that CSV can't be just another buzz word to make us believe we are advancing CR. It's too easy for companies to brand examples of social good as it relates to a business opportunity as CSV without demonstrating and delivering upon the total positive net impact. And to your second point regarding the hard question of addressing the conflicts when profit and social good don't align - would love to see more discussion on this as it is often a key barrier to truly advancing CR.

  4. KevinMoss 2:29 pm on November 18, 2011

    Cathie, Caroline, thanks both for your comments. On the plus side in my role as an in-house practitioner I have to say there is still a lot to be said for the motivating impact of aligning profit with doing good, so I want to have my cake and eat it as they say !

  5. Nexii 8:41 pm on December 8, 2011

    Great article and similar conclusions to our discussion with others. Check out the post here:

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