What about Whitewash?
The media and blogosphere is all over greenwash and rightly so. But what about its namesake, whitewash. I view the move from philanthropy as the central component of CSR, towards a much broader view of sustainability, as an important evolution. In the Four Dimensions of Sustainability, I use carbon emissions as the vehicle to illustrate the dimensions but the principles apply equally to economic and social sustainability – the impact of companies on the economic and social well-being of the communities in which they operate.
A responsible company needs to compare the impact of its charitable giving (dimension – inform and influence) in any particular sphere, with the impact of its products and services in the same sphere. In some situations, companies will find that their impact through the way they offer their services into the market place is an order of magnitude greater than the opportunity for change through their philanthropic giving. Whether it is an ICT company putting philanthropic dollars into digital inclusion, a food company funding nutrition education or a bank foundation subsidizing education for economically deprived communities on fiscal responsibility, the CSR professional also should be considering the impact of the company’s products and services on that community.
Corporate philanthropy has and will continue to provide enormous value to society. I would argue that it becomes whitewash at the point that it detracts from attention to the in-life and enabled impact of the products and services produced by the company.