Knowledge Centre

CSR isn’t Lipstick on a Pig!

#CSR is more than corporate concealer or make-up you stick on a business with ugly practices.  But that’s exactly the way some organizations treat it . Then they’re surprised when they don’t see any results.  CSR and #Sustainability have to be part of an integrated business strategy if they are going to work.

A well-run business has a lot of integrated pieces working together and supporting each other; Finance, marketing, human resources, operations, engineering, sales, etc.  CSR and sustainability are simply more pieces of the same puzzle. Individually none of these pieces will drive success on their own – but any one of them can lead to failure if not done well.  

CSR and sustainability are important parts of a well-run business, that need to be integrated with other functions in order to create a smooth running and successful whole.  In some businesses several pieces are key and the rest are supportive. In other businesses one piece is key and the others play more of a supporting role. Each business will have its own strategy, its own path to success

Every business has its own unique mixture, its magic recipe.  For some marketing may be the key differentiator that drives success.  But, marketing alone can’t do it. For marketing to drive success the business needs financing, it needs good people and efficient operations and sales.  In today’s business world CSR and sustainability must be part of that mix.

In some businesses CSR will be the lead that drives success and competitive advantage.  In others it will play a supportive role. But, it is just dumb to not include it at all, or to treat it as window dressing to cover up problems and shortcomings of the other parts.

If your business has problems and shortcomings, address them.  Don’t try to cover them up. Don’t try to put lipstick on a pig.

CSR is sometimes seen, wrongly, as gift-wrapping for a company, used solely to project a do-gooder image to the public. As I’ve said in previous posts nobody believes that companies do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. So keeping up that phony pretense is simply pointless.  And it costs you money. And it costs you goodwill. This kind of thinking will also leave  your customers, employees and stakeholders wondering what else they shouldn’t trust about you.

To be fair, CSR and Sustainability are relatively new issues on the business agenda. They are often brought to the table in external-facing social and environmental terms, as if they don’t really have a core business aspect to them; as if they are separate from other important business areas.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. CSR does represent business value, and lots of it. Smart businesses and managers must learn how to manage that value effectively; value for society and the environment, yes, but also value and impact for the business itself.

It’s important to remember that CSR doesn’t just have an external focus. The key driver is always impact. What is the impact on society, the planet, and your business. If your CSR programs are going to be effective you need to focus on all three value pillars—social, environmental, and business value—simultaneously. You can’t optimize value creation if you are constantly trying to retrofit any one of these into the equation.

As I said earlier, this sort of virtue-signalling actually makes companies less credible. Consumers are smart, and they know that the fundamental goal of a company is to make money. Corporate communications that stress social value impact and try to gloss over the connection to business value are often discounted by savvy consumers: they can tell when self-interest is being disguised as social interest.   So can employees. And other stakeholders

Right now, the default focus of CSR and Sustainability always seems to be social and environmental impact. It takes discipline and commitment to ensure that business value gets equal billing in the communications and in the strategy. Because when it doesn’t, it tends to reinforce the stereotype—that CSR is just altruistic gift-wrap, pretty but ultimately extraneous, like lipstick on a pig.  And that’s just not true. It’s about business.

At the CSR Training Institute we have no time or interest in putting lipstick on a pig.  We work with companies that want to learn to use CSR and sustainability to create real value for business society and the environment.  We show companies how to leverage their CSR budgets so that capital is not wasted.

If you want to learn more about how you can make CSR a business driver send me a note and take advantage of a complimentary consultation that may change the way you do business for the better.

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.