The Last CSR Issue

I have to admit up front that I have some questions about this issue, or not the issue itself, but the theme.

Pekka Mattila, 04.06.2013

Corporate social responsibility is a big concept, but it is still mostly waffle-thin. All too often it is about loss-making start-ups and beautifully designed PR agendas of huge and polluting conglomerates.

We have even abbreviated the concept to “CSR” to make it is easier to use at the drop of a hat. Very little caution and very little consideration are taken when the three big letters are the definition themselves. This has caused many activist groups and consumers as well as business executives to grow disillusioned, even cynical.

Unfortunately, CSR is often thin in corporate and even thinner in responsibility: the cherished resources are slashed as soon as the first signs of a downturn are on the horizon. As fellow scholars postulated, the responsibility and reputation initiatives are often bolted-on instead of built-in. They have very thin linkage to the core of the business and are, thus quite rightfully, treated as discretionary minor expenses with little or no strategic gravity. This is neither responsible nor sustainable.

From Fall 2008, I remember well how all the world-class business schools were busy launching a number of CSR and ethics courses. This was an easy, but deceptive, remedy once they had to address the growing criticism of farming corporate greed and irresponsibility. As long as we have these dedicated courses something is still amiss: bolted-on, not built-in. One of the first changes I made as the principal lecturer of a number of core marketing courses was to drop this designated class and start to reflect instead on the ethical questions at each and every session.

”I don’t make movies to make money. I make money to make movies,” Walt Disney insisted. This is a good example of so-called obliquity. Do the right thing and the money will follow. Strategy scholars Porter and Kramer have been investigating the theme of shared value, a.k.a. generating revenue and profit growth and at the same time serving the local communities passionately and with a high impact.

Currently, it is popular to track carbon footprints or tax footprints of companies and individuals. I encourage every single corporation and entrepreneurial venture to start tracking their leadership footprints. By leadership footprint, I mean the compilation of a number of factors: taxes paid, increase in the number of employees and their households, investments in infrastructure, etc. The traditional feel-good activities with an air of a marketing campaign about them have, fortunately, very little oxygen.

Dr. Pekka Mattila
D.Soc.Sc., Executive MBA
Group Managing Director, Aalto University Executive Education
Professor of Practice, Aalto University School of Business

(Editorial, Profile Magazine 2/2013)

Currently reading: Aalto Leaders' Insight: The Last CSR Issue

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