The CSR Conundrum of Sustainability

As pointed out by a recent article in GreenBiz, a new report by the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) sheds light on a big issue at play in Silicon Valley: most large companies are compliant, but aren’t driving a thorough, transparent approach to sustainability. This is not surprising in the least.

Companies are getting more and more pressure to be socially responsible and to tackle the toughest issues that are facing their communities. And most are willing to step up and play a part. But for many of those companies, it is a box to check, and not a discipline that is integrated into their business strategies.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely do not believe that companies should solely be focused on improving our communities. We have nonprofits and government to do that. However, there is a role that companies can play, as they generally have more flexible resources, a tremendous talent pool and are generally more influential. But businesses should never lose sight of their #1 priority: to make money. They need to stay in business, keep people employed and produce profits. And once they get to that point, only then can businesses starting thinking about their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and how to integrate it throughout their business. But to truly engage in meaningful CSR, there has to be a thoughtful, meaningful approach. An annual company-wide “volunteer day” doesn’t generally make a long-term impact, but it does give businesses a way to say, “See? Look what we did! We gave back to the community!”

Here’s the point to all of this: Businesses need to focus on their business and make it successful. Once they’ve reached that achievement, then they can start thinking about how to be a good, sustainable corporate citizen that offers meaningful support. But let’s not expect them to be our savior, and let’s have realistic expectations.

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