Dilemmas – The Core of Corporate Responsibility

Traditionally the role of the CR practitioner includes several components: marketing (customer engagement and product stewardship), HR (diversity and employee engagement), investor relations, operational management (environmental management), and PR (communications). So with such a broad remit of involvement, what really captures the essence of the CR practitioner’s role?     

I think that at the core of the role is management of dilemmas. The foundational dilemma that captures corporate responsibility (as opposed to a sustainability role in a non-profit or in government), is the tension that sometimes exists between growing profit and delivering societal and environmental benefit. 

The field is also rich with dilemmas within and between CR realms. Within the environmental realm for example, practitioners must confront questions of whether to have a simple absolute target for CO2 reduction or a more sophisticated, but harder to articulate intensity target (one I grapple with!); should you have a target at all if half your stakeholders don’t think climate change is man made; are offsets a sustainable way to deliver carbon reduction? 

Within the civil society sphere there are of course a host of dilemmas over how best to alleviate poverty, improve health etc. In the ICT sector, we think a lot about the right balance between freedom of speech and protection of the vulnerable, and between privacy and security. 

But most interesting to me are the dilemmas between realms of CR. Where do you draw the line between retaining jobs vs. reducing carbon (if they do indeed conflict), between building a thriving economy and the sustainability downsides of consumerism, between water as a low carbon source for temperature control and water scarcity? 

It seems to me that analyzing dilemmas is really the crux of being a CR practitioner. We must be able to articulate CSR issues as dilemmas and recognize that there aren’t always clear right and wrong answers. Rather, there are balanced decisions that need to be made and continually reviewed. 

Delivering programs is an important part of the CR role, but they (programming) don’t distinguish it as a profession. To me, how we address dilemmas is the true indication of a well embedded corporate responsibility approach and an evolving profession.

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