Philanthropy as compensation and carbon offsets

On Friday I posted some thoughts about the role of philanthropy in corporate responsibility and left one idea to consider separately. Does philanthropy have a role to play as a form of compensation.

It is the case that much of our human activity and associated consumption has a net negative impact on the environment. The nature of business also means that in order to meet a greater social need, there can be a real or perceived negative impact on the local community in whose back yard an operation is carried out. In this situation there is perhaps a role for community investment to compensate above and beyond what the market and the law deems sufficient.

This might take the form of philanthropic participation or provision of services and goods in kind.

And it occurred to me recently that buying carbon offsets is an example of this too.  Carbon offsets don’t mitigate the specific carbon emissions they are intended to offset in the way that pollution clean-up mitigates the specific pollution.  Rather, at a purely incremental cost, they make a positive compensatory contribution to carbon emission reduction somewhere else in the world. Because carbon emissions are a global rather than local problem it doesn’t matter that the compensation is elsewhere.

I generally dislike the terminology “giving back to the community”. Mainly, for its implication that business takes away from the community and secondly, that the appropriate response is to give a bit back in the form of community investment. But perhaps there are times where philanthropy and community investment (and offsets) are truly a way of giving back to a community to compensate for something that has been taken away.


  1. Comments 1

  2. A Siegel 1:01 pm on March 23, 2011

    Couple points: 1. "Giving Back to The Community" is better termed, imo, as "Strengthening the Community" or "Contributing to Community Enrichment" or such ... point is that these efforts should be seeking to strengthen the very communities in which the Corporation works, draws its employees, etc ... 2. Seems that 'carbon offsets' are a too easy to do 'check the box' that don't require serious engagement from the Corporation in a thoughtful path toward 'Contributing to Community Enrichment'. Far better, imo, to be able to say "contributed 10,000 solar stoves and supporting educational needs" than to say "bought 10,000 carbon offset credits". Which has tangible substance for Corporation's employees, investors, customers? 3. I thought that the "Philanthropy as compensation" was going to be focused on employee compensation. Such as telling employees "we're giving you $100 to donate, as you see fit, to community enrichment programs" that could have sustainability, education, and/or other arenas as possible donation paths.


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