Knowledge Centre

Being Authentic with Corporate Social Responsibility

When a business makes the­­ decision to integrate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into its strategy, the most important thing it can do is to be authentic, open — and completely transparent — with its approach.  And focus on value (shareholder and social) with its strategy

Businesses and organizations that ignore this rule and choose to take a quick fix approach to CSR risk of running into a multitude of issues. Some — such as losing credibility with valued customers and stakeholders — can be detrimental to a company’s success and undermine future opportunities.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with businesses that “green wash” or disseminate false information in order to present an environmentally responsible public image. Instead of making environmentally conscious choices or having a positive environmental impact, businesses that “green wash” spend endless dollars on advertising in order to make it look as though they are environmental stewards. In reality, these companies are usually the ones engaging in questionable and often unsustainable environmental practices.  Overstating results and impact, or – worse yet – falsifying them, will lose trust, erode credibility and create real harm for the business.

CSR Authenticity

We’re now starting to see businesses take a similar approach to CSR — something I refer to as “social washing”. Instead of putting in the time, effort and resources to effectively embrace CSR and align shareholder value with social progress and environmental stewardship businesses become lazy and make a decision to put forward “feel good” campaigns with little focus on real value creation and social impact

However, something that has changed in the last five to ten years is the public’s access to information and expectation of transparency. Business today operates in a fishbowl where all actions are subject to the echo chamber of social media and the heightened expectations of customers, regulators, communities, investors and others.  What businesses could once cover up with a solid marketing campaign can and will be uncovered, and will not be tolerated by consumers and investors with access to information and (seemingly) ever increasing expectations.  Witness what happened to United Airlines recently when an incident where a passenger was dragged from a flight was amplified by social media and wiped nearly a billion dollars off their market cap overnight (and the corporate brand will wear the tarnish of this incident for years to come)

Laurence D. Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, recently sent letters to some of the world’s largest public companies demanding they contribute to society or lose investment support. In doing so, he was not calling for these companies to randomly engage with a charity or two on an annual basis. Fink was encouraging companies to be smart and strategic, and to recognize that the world is changing. He wants these companies to embrace CSR in a way that simultaneously creates shareholder and societal returns without the use of social washing campaigns.  He recognized that companies that don’t learn to integrate and align shareholder value with social progress and environmental stewardship will find it increasingly difficult to deliver financial returns to shareholders.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were unanimously adopted by the United Nations and serve as a global development framework, embraced by every country and every major development institution, can serve as a great framework for aligning shareholder value, business operations, social progress and environmental stewardship.   Most businesses find that they are already having on positive impact in one or more SDG areas.  And, they find that when they open a genunine internal discussion they will often find new and exciting opportunities to broaden the impact and increase business and social value (and energies employees and stakeholders at the same time)

At CSR Training Institute, we understand that not every business is an expert on developing ground-breaking ways to serve both society and shareholders. While moving forward with a quick fix might be tempting, your business’s future depends on the authentic choices you make today.

I would love to speak with you about how a strategic approach to CSR can help your business or organization in the short- and long-term. Send me an email at to get started today.

Prof. Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global sustainability expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and advisory service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.