By equipping yourself and your organization to understand the changing landscape, and setting a strategic course, you can position your company, customers, shareholders, industry and communities to have a more secure, resilient and thriving future.
Do you remember when you first heard the term “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and learned about the idea of business being a force for good?
For me, it was 1992 — over 25 years ago. I was on the board of Vancouver-based Vancity Credit Union, today a global leader in values-based banking and one of the largest credit unions in the world. Back then, the board and management were searching for an approach to steer the credit union towards positive social and environmental outcomes; and that year, we agreed to incorporate “corporate social role” goals into our corporate strategy. Then and since, Vancity has remained a sustainable banking and finance pioneer, continuously innovating new banking strategies for good.
Since 1992, I have witnessed four stages of CSR as it has evolved globally, driven by innovating corporations such as Vancity and others. As shown in the table below, CSR has moved:
from ad hoc social and environmental practices (what I refer to as ‘random acts of kindness and greenness’)
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to strategic approaches in which the company adopts sustainability targets and metrics to steward its approach
to an integrated model in which the company embeds CSR/sustainability into everything it does
and finally to a social purpose business model — where the company defines and brings to life a societal or humanitarian reason for its existence.
That was the path we began to travel at Vancity, and the one I’ve been following since I left the board and started advising companies on this journey.
This continuum is very active in the Canadian market today. Last March, I published a study I conducted for the Government of Canada in which I researched trends, barriers and opportunities in CSR. Through interviews with over 30 companies, I concluded that companies are increasingly ‘pivoting to purpose.’ As one company put it:
“We haven’t used the term ‘CSR’ for a long time. We are a social purpose business. The difference between a social purpose business and a business with a CSR program is that a CSR program can be seen as bolted on. CSR programs thus have an indirect connection to the business, whereas social purpose businesses have mechanisms that address social purpose holistically. All our programs are tied into supporting that social purpose, which is generally geared towards improving the community or society and that’s how we operate. Our social purpose is linked into our mission and our value statement; the overlap is pretty much the entire thing. So, everything is aligned that way.”
These leading companies are also activating the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — the 17 goals the global community has deemed necessary for society to live within a safe and just operating space on the planet by 2030. The research found the following approaches at play within companies.
Fortunately, unlike the way it was for Vancity’s board and management in the 1990s, roadmaps and guidelines are now available to help companies advance and accelerate their social impact — whether it’s a pivot from CSR to purpose; or using the SDGs to inform a sustainability strategy, a corporate strategy or a business model. What for Vancity was a 10-year journey can now be shortened to three years with steadfast leadership commitment and the right tools.
And one of those helpful tools is my just-published “Guide to Next-Generation Practices in CSR,” based on the Government of Canada study mentioned earlier. Whether you seek a CSR tune-up, aspire to accelerate sustainability in your company or simply want to understand the changing field of CSR/sustainability/purpose, this guidebook and its recommended actions can help you on your path. The ideas and inspirations from over 30 companies shared in this resource show you how other leaders are advancing and evolving in their journey.
By equipping yourself and your organization to understand the changing landscape, and setting a strategic course, you can position your company, your customers, your shareholders, your industry and communities to have a more secure, resilient and thriving future.