Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Front & Center


How do you define Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? And who do you think is doing a good job of it?  I’d like your feedback so I can quote you in a story on the best practitioners of Corporate Social Responsibility in Chicago. Your input will help us develop the most authoritative article.

 The first step, of course, is to define CSR. Turns out though that this is not as simple as we originally thought it would be. A broadly used definition is “product, people, planet, profit,” or some variation thereof.Inline image 1

Walgreens Executive Vice President & General counsel Tom Sabatino, whose responsibilities include CSR, uses this as his mantra. This led to the development of zero carbon footprint stores like the one which opened last November in Evanston , as well as it’s phenomenal distribution center with a high percentage of physically challenged individuals that is actually more efficient than more traditional models.  This commitment is why we are so proud that Walgreens sponsors our Make It Better Philanthropy Awards. Please see my past blog post about this.

Tom Sabatino, WalgreensFrom a more legalistic perspective, CSR can be defined as “corporate self-regulation.” It functions as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. In some models, a firm’s implementation of CSR goes beyond compliance and engages in “actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law.”[2][3]  There is little that is inspiring in this definition though.

John Edwardson CDWFormer CEO and Chairman of CDW, Inc. John Edwardson, defines CSR as the money spent by a company which otherwise could have been distributed to shareholders.

John Edwardson is the man who endowed the social entrepreneur program at Booth School Of Business with Deputy Dean of Booth School of Business Robert Gerner charged with running the Edwardson program

16390087.cmsIronically, Booth School Of Business Deputy Dean Robert Gertner, who is also Co-Director of the Social Enterprise Initiativeimages-1 endowed by Edwardson disagrees with Edwardson’s narrow definition.  Rather, Gertner prefers developing categories of types of CSR and believes that businesses who do any of these well are likely to enjoy increased productivity and profits.  This is a bit like, but more sophisticated than the Product, People, Planet, Profit definition.  His recommended categories include:

1.  Sustainability/Green Practices

2. Corporate Philanthropy that prioritizes a deep commitment to solving one problem, as opposed to just purchasing tables to be associated with a cause.

3.  Categorical Alignment – giving back efforts that use the company’s expertise

4.  Employee Treatment

5.  Sustainable Supply Chain

6.  Local Focus (giving back to the community where they are based)

My question for you is how do you define corporate social responsibility?  Or more simply, with which of the definitions below do you agree:

1. Product, people, planet, profit

2. Corporate self-regulation

3. Corporate programs developed from money which otherwise could have been given to shareholders

4. Activity that could fall into a variety of programs and are likely to increase productivity and profits.

In future posts, I will ask for whom you to judge best CSR practices of Chicago companies. Please comment, answer and share this post so I can get as much feedback as possible.

 Thank you for your help.

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