I’ve been skipping through books on CSR over the past week, trying to get myself psyched up for a trip that’s less than a week and a half away, and so far everything seems to be backfiring. One of the books I’m working on, Saving The World At Work, caused a bit of a revelation this evening, and not in a good way. The first chapter of the book includes examples on Ikea flat packing its furniture and maximizing shipping space. That of course was given as an example of corporate responsibility–not being sloppy on shipping allows Ikea to minimize its environmental footprint. Critics could argue that the real benefit to Ikea comes from the fact the aggressive shipping methods allow it to save money, but I’m not really bothered by that. Save money, save resources, win win, but something about the example, and others like it, have bothered me.
It was on my walk tonight that I got it. A frequent argument for companies developing CSR initiatives is that it’s just good business, and while that may be true, one could just as easily argue that running one’s business in an efficient manner is just good business. While the argument on CSR is considered revolutionary and worthy of discussion and study, the efficiency argument is so obvious that few would bother to speak it. The problem is, aside from limited kinds of stakeholder outreach, and certain types of remediation, there is little difference between the two.
In a nutshell, CSR may just be a different name for something that has existed for as long as businesses have competed with each other. We may be developing new methods in this day and age, but from a philosophical standpoint, it’s starting to look like CSR is nothing new.
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