In a series of focuses on how students view CSR, Seamus Dufurrena, PhD student at ESSEC Business School, shares a 3-part story of his path to awareness, responsible business and a wider purpose.
Why is CSR necessary?
‘There’s no question that CSR is necessary to address some of the most pressing issues of our time,’ asserts Dufurrena. ‘Our resources are finite and we need to ensure that we aren’t short-changing future generations, let alone our own.’ For him, issues such as climate change and mass extinction, as well as human rights abuses and labour issues, must be addressed at both the micro and macro levels. The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provide mechanisms for companies to be transparent about their activities and report progress on sustainable practices and, indeed, CSR. ‘This is a positive step and the number of participants is growing worldwide,’ says Dufurrena, though he regrets that of all the regions reporting to the UNGC (as of 2015) his own – North America – has the smallest number of participating companies (364). This figure is significantly smaller than Africa’s 600, Asia and Oceania’s 1,267, Latin America’s 1,712, and Europe’s 4,345. For Dufurrena, this may be due to the voluntary nature of such practices in the U.S, in France, for example, CAC 40 companies being required by law to report their activities. ‘I believe it’s important for CSR to be backed by sound policy set by government and that such policy might help to drive these reporting figures up,’ he states. ‘This may not happen in the U.S. under the current political climate, but I’m optimistic that more companies will sign onto initiatives such as those of the UNGC and GRI as benefits of improved credibility and brand perception should easily outweigh the costs.’
On a micro level, one of the most insightful analogies Dufurrena came across as a graduate student interested in CSR was the notion of corporate personality, identity, and perception. A firm’s personality is intrinsically linked to the internal culture of the company and this will really reflect the credibility of its stance towards CSR. Identity, on the other hand, is thought of as how the company wants to be seen in the public eye. Perception is how the public actually perceives the company or firm. If the company focuses its efforts only on public relations, the substance of its CSR policies may be questionable as it is focusing simply on its identity in an attempt to influence the public’s perception. ‘It is necessary to form a personality or culture that is genuinely preoccupied with treating employees well, with reducing (or ideally reversing) environmental impact, and with addressing the concerns of various stakeholders,’ insists Dufurrena. ‘If a company’s personality is responsible and genuine, the work of public relations should be made easy and in that case, there should be no disconnect between personality, identity, and perception. I think that’s what firms should strive for if they’re serious about becoming responsible. It should start with corporate personality, that is, it needs to develop the right culture.’
But what of the day-to-day guardianship of CSR in an organisation? Seamus Dufurrena’s answer ends with a paradox. ‘When a company begins to engage seriously in CSR, it may be necessary to designate a team to CSR implementation through to fruition,’ he asserts. ‘Such a team will necessarily be involved in just about all departments – for example, HR to see fair hiring practices and treatment of employees, operations to oversee implementation of cleaner production processes and more sustainable project designs, accounting to coordinate CSR reporting practices.’ However, Dufurrena sees the CSR team’s purpose as making its job unnecessary and obsolete. ‘If it’s successful in implementing CSR, every department should be conducting their activities responsibly, making the team redundant. That, strangely as it seems, should be the overall goal.’
- For those who can handle academic jargon: “Corporate Social and Financial Performance: A Meta-Analysis” by Marc Orlitzky, Frank Schmidt and Sara Rynes, 2003
- This paper evaluates 52 scientific studies (33,878 observations) to demonstrate that investing in corporate social/environmental performance is not at odds with financial performance. Hopefully it provides some reassurance for companies who hesitate to begin engaging in CSR.
- Link up with Seamus Duferrena on LinkedIn
- The ESSEC PhD page
- Global Voice magazine
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