Akhila is a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she i...
Let's go over this again: CSR is not branding
Today I read something painfully ignorant in BrandLine, The Hindu Business Line's supplementary. The column by Harish Bijoor that is usually spot on and informative was a sad let down. Mr. Bijoor reckons that CSR is nothing more than branding and even those who "deny it soutly will admit it some day or the other."
Bijoor goes on to say, "CSR helps organizations achieve a soft image for themselves." Many companies will beg to differ from this statement because we are seeing companies who are adopting the principles of CSR and retaining their 'hard' business edge and in many cases doing better for it. He elaborates by saying that a company that produce a traditionally unsustainable product "indulges in CSR to escape the guilt-trip the corporate organization finds itself on."
There are business born with good 'CSR genes' like Patagonia, Lush,Innocent, Timberland etc. There are other that have evolved to include these 'genes' like Coco-Cola, Britannia, Tesco, Pepsico, GE etc. Not every business can be born with these genes but every business can certainly adapt to its environment. The environment right now is one where there is global social uncertainty resting upon an ecosystem which is severely threatened - all of this threatens business profitability and in turn global economy. The businesses that can adapt best will survive; this is the key to biology, of life and of business -- the agent of change that helps business adapt in this climate is CSR.
CSR certainly adds to brand equity but it is most certainly not branding. Confusing it with branding involves a degree of public relations and whilst CSR is not PR, PR can be CSR. CSR is also definitely not market strategy, just to clarify. CSR is a principle of doing business that creates solutions to impart a positive socio-economic impact.
CSR disagrees with the precept that business generates enough social good and therefore need not do more than their realm of operation. This means that a business can get away with committing any number of environmental atrocities that in turn affects the lives of people. It is not just the role of the law to see to this; it is also business responsibility to ensure that the social opportunities it creates is not negated by its treatment of the environs - this is what CSR ensures. CSR negates the idea that externalities should exist in business, it devises models whereby these externalities can be reduced or avoided.
This certainly does not work if it rests solely on branding. Companies that take CSR seriously create a DNA of sustainability in their business - in many cases, it forms their business model. Brand equity based on the concepts of CSR becomes very flimsy if the approach to sustainability is just greenwash or an exercise in 'branding' and this deception is very easy to see through. A brand that talks about CSR should be prepared to be walk the talk. CSR's four-cornered approach to the well-being of its stakeholders is one of the most poignant means by which humanity can become an essential component of business.