Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
While some sustainability terms have stood the test of time, others are now outdated. No matter what terms you use, you and your colleagues should have a shared
understanding of what “purpose” means in your organization to gain its greatest benefits. Here is an up-to-date glossary for responsible business professionals.
CSR, ESG, social impact, corporate citizenship … The more
accepted “purpose” becomes as a core business strategy, the more challenging it
becomes to define “it.” Over my 30-plus years of shaping the practice of linking
businesses with social and environmental issues, I’ve seen many phrases used
While some terms have stood the test of time, others are now outdated. No matter
what terminology used, you and your colleagues should have a shared
understanding of what “purpose” means in your organization to gain its greatest
benefits. It’s critical to have consensus on the objectives for this strategy,
which stakeholders to engage, and desired results. Otherwise, your
purpose-related strategies may not deliver.
To help your journey, consider this an up-to-date glossary for responsible
business professionals, presented in alphabetical order.
Brand purpose: What a brand stands for and how it strives to achieve
business and societal benefit. Well-executed brand purpose adds value to a
brand, often with the goal to build and deepen relationships between the brand
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Cause branding: An evolution of cause marketing, cause branding is a phrase
I developed in 1998 to coincide with our third national research study. As I
wrote in the early
branding is “a powerful positioning discipline used to enliven brand equity and
enhance corporate image with significant bottom-line and community impacts.”
Cause marketing: Initiatives or campaigns “implemented by for-profit
businesses that seek to better
involving a nonprofit partner or giving mechanism integrated at point-of-sale.
Think: donations at the register or a percent of proceeds going to a cause.
Usually periodic and transactional.
Corporate citizenship: Boston College’s Center for Corporate
the practice as “how a company exercises its rights, obligations, privileges and
overall responsibility within our local and global environments. Great corporate
citizenship goes beyond a focus on addressing surface-level sustainability
efforts with today’s leading responsible corporations drawing on the collective
impact of a variety of initiatives that address an array of trends and emerging
Corporate social responsibility (CSR): CSR
a “self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable –
to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.” This term was originally
popularized in Europe in the 1980s and grew in the US in the 1990s, with
a focus on philanthropy and community engagement. However, CSR does not
necessarily include operational, governance and environmental components. Beware
confusing CSR with broader concepts of corporate responsibility or ESG.
ESG: ESG stands for the environmental, social and governance-related
commitments, programs, policies and practices to measure the sustainability and
ethical impact of a business or company. ESG comprises a set of financial and
non-financial factors that are increasingly being considered by
as part of their analysis to identify material risks and growth opportunities
within organizations and sectors.
Greenwashing: Conveying the impression of sustainability or being
environmentally friendly to take advantage of the “halo” effect that such
actions bring to a company.
notes that greenwashing is “considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive
consumers into believing a company’s products are environmentally friendly.” Or
said another way, disinformation disseminated by an organization to convey an
inaccurate, environmentally responsible public image (see recent examples from
Cousins to greenwashing include
— bestowing a fake commitment to embrace society and/or the environment within a
business or brand.
Movement marketing: The practice of applying marketing principles to
generate, sustain and amplify movements linked to a relevant cultural and/or
social issue. Movement marketing aims to tap into shared values, passions and
objectives between organizations and society.
“charitable acts or other good works that help others or society as a whole.”
Corporate philanthropy typically involves grant-making, financial
to nonprofit organizations, and other activities that are largely a one-way
(corporation to nonprofit) exchange.
Purpose: An organization’s aspirational reason for
beyond profits — grounded in humanity.
Reputation: Corporate reputation is determined by a variety of factors.
Reputation Leaders frames it as the
overall image of a company, which rests on four pillars: brand, people, purpose
and profit. Stakeholders assess
from their personal experience and trusted third parties to evaluate how a
company performs, how it conducts itself, and how well it communicates.
Shared value: Often used in the context of mutually beneficial partnerships
between corporations and nonprofits, shared value is actually a broader
approach to business
which involves “pursuing financial success in a way that also yields societal
benefits.” This is not about shared values, but rather an approach to business
fundamentals — such as how products interact with supply
Social impact: Sometimes used alongside “business impact,” the term social
impact refers to
“a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social
Stakeholder capitalism: A movement spearheaded by organizations including
JUST Capital, stakeholder capitalism is a system in
which corporations are oriented to serve the interests of all their
— including communities, employees, customers, the environment, and others — not
Sustainability: The United Nations Brundtland
Commission proposed the
following definition of “sustainability” in 1987: Sustainability is “meeting the
needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs.” This definition has withstood time, and is used by
academics, policy leaders, and leading businesses today.
Did we miss any terms or phrases? Any you would update in our next edition? Drop me a line at @carolcone.
Published Apr 21, 2022 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Carol is internationally recognized for her work in Purpose and CSR. Carol Cone ON PURPOSE is the return to her entrepreneurial roots and life’s passion: to educate, inspire and accelerate purpose programs and impacts for organizations, nonprofits and individuals around the globe.