Corporate activities are polluting the environment, degrading bio-systems, reducing biodiversity, over-exploiting scarce natural capital, contributing to global warming, accelerating climate change and damaging the life chances of future generations. There is an urgent need for innovation and action to tackle, prevent and reverse multiple and inter-related negative externalities, change our priorities and practices, switch to simpler, healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals. CSR should support responsible leadership and the collaborations needed to achieve the re-purposing, re-thinking, re-prioritisation, re-shaping and re-invention of activities, lifestyles and communities required and the re-deployment of resources and capabilities involved.
Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas is an experienced vision holder of successful transformation programmes and chairman of award winning start-ups. Excerpts:
Q. Do you really feel that strategic CSR is the need of the hour?
Corporate activities are polluting the environment, degrading bio-systems, reducing biodiversity, over-exploiting scarce natural capital, contributing to global warming, accelerating climate change and damaging the life chances of future generations. In addressing these shared challenges humanity is in a race against time. There is an urgent need for innovation and action to tackle, prevent and reverse multiple and inter-related negative externalities, change our priorities and practices, switch to simpler, healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals.
If what people regard as ‘strategic CSR’ helps, furthers and supports the re-purposing, re-thinking, re-prioritisation, re-shaping, re-invention and re-deployment required it could well be one of the needs of the hour. If it does not, it could be a distraction and it may be regarded by future generations as an inadequate response of people who themselves come to be viewed as naïve and/or hypocritical.
Q. According to you, what is CSR strategy and strategic CSR?
The term strategy is associated with planning and steps to achieve certain outcomes and/or longer-term goals. In conditions of uncertainty and when situations and circumstances can rapidly change as events unfold traditional strategic planning can be inflexible. Intelligent steering may be more appropriate. Strategy then becomes more related to what needs to be done at each stage of an evolving journey to achieve a desired transition or transformation to more inclusive and sustainable models of operating and living.
The label ‘strategic’ is sometimes attached to activities in order to make them seem more important and to justify the involvement of directors and senior management. A more appropriate use would be where an activity relates to an organisation or situation as a whole, concerns a core purpose, is sufficiently significant to make a material and noticeable difference, and the involvement of directors and senior management is advisable, desirable or necessary.
Q. Why must a corporation align its CSR strategy to strategic CSR?
If strategy is not strategic it might well have been misnamed. Both the activities that constitute strategic CSR and the strategy to achieve them should be consistent with, supportive of and aligned to the purpose of an organisation and its values and goals. These should be socially and environmentally responsible and take account of the availability of natural capital and the requirements of bio-systems and future generations.
Q. According to you, what is strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
Strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the responsibility an organisation and its directors, stakeholders and people have to operate honestly, fairly and responsibly and to protect and restore the environment, re-establish and enhance bio-systems, increase biodiversity, re-wild, re-cycle and build natural capital, reduce and reverse global warming, mitigate and moderate climate change and increase and widen the life chances of future generations.
Q. What is your definition of strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
Strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the responsibility an organisation and its directors, stakeholders and people have to operate honestly, fairly and responsibly and to protect and restore the environment, re-establish and enhance bio-systems, re-wild and increase biodiversity, re-cycle and build natural capital, reduce and reverse global warming, mitigate and moderate climate change and increase and widen the life chances of future generations.
Q. According to you, what are key differences between strategic CSR and traditional CSR approach?
They should be one and the same. Traditional CSR should always have been related to the whole of an organisation’s activities and have had a significant impact on the achievement of its purpose, goals and priorities and have been of interest and concern to directors and senior management. It should never have been a distraction and a cosmetic activity composed of a few self-contained side projects apart from mainstream operations and undertaken at the minimum level to satisfy an imposed requirement.
Q. What kind of role can technology play in implementing CSR strategy?
In themselves, technologies are neutral. It is the uses to which they are put, by whom and for what purpose that determines the extent to which their applications are helpful or harmful. Technologies themselves use scarce natural capital that will be needed by future generations. Socially and environmentally responsible boards discontinue applications of technology to increase activity, output, productivity and growth that result in harmful emissions and negative externalities and replace them with uses of technology to enable and support remedial and restorative activities and more sustainable and inclusive consumption, lifestyles and models of operation.
Q. What is your advice to have an effective strategic CSR?
Have the courage to question and challenge assumptions, activities and practices that lead to undesirable impacts and negative externalities. Make people aware of the environmental and other consequences of their purchase, consumption and lifestyle decisions. Engage with stakeholders to secure support for the re-purposing, reviewing of priorities, changes of direction, innovation, internalisation of externalities and transition and transformation required to pursue activities such as recycling and re-use, and the restoration, re-wilding and de-carbonisation needed to address pressing and inter-related challenges facing mankind and improve the prospects and life chances of future generations
Q. According to you, what are the fundamentals of strategic CSR?
Human activity is adversely impacting upon the natural world. The consequences of corporate practices and priorities and our collective aspirations, consumption, priorities and lifestyles are unsustainable. They are compromising the futures of our own species and resulting the loss of many others. Strategic CSR needs to contribute to changing them.
The activity, project and programme elements of strategic CSR need to complement other corporate initiatives and be appropriate and proportionate in relation to the situation, circumstances and capabilities of each organisation. They should be practical and deliverable, and both relevant to and supportive of what needs to be done to address and reverse shared social and environmental challenges facing mankind and achieve Sustainable Development Goals. They should also be sufficient in terms of scale and scope to have a discernible and significant impact that makes a material difference within the required timescale.
What are the key challenges the organisations are facing today?
Greed, selfishness and laziness, and entrenched lobbies and vested interests in the status quo, as people persist in trying to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and continue damaging and un-sustainable activities and lifestyles for as long as they can, before these are banned and/or more courts award damages for a failure to move quickly enough to responsibly innovate, change direction and reduce and reverse the harm being done while there is still time to reverse global warming and avert environmental, bio-system, natural capital, social and climatic catastrophes.