Corporate Social Responsibility: Beyond the Buzzwords
October 27, 2023
Equity, diversity and inclusion. Climate change. Social and economic inequality. Public health. Society is being asked to deal with these critical issues and so many more. And businesses cannot afford to overlook them either. Increasingly, they are feeling the pressure to put actionable initiatives in place to ensure they come across as socially responsible, failing which their image, their bottom line and their very existence may be doomed.
Executive Education HEC Montréal recently conducted a webinar on this topic, entitled Corporate Social Responsibility: Game-Changer or Gimmick?, in conjunction with La Presse.
Three speakers joined moderator François Cardinal, La Presse’s Vice-President, Information, and Deputy Editor, on October 11:
Luciano Barin Cruz, Professor, Department of Management; Director, Office of Sustainable Tourism; Director and Co-Founder of the IDEOS Hub, HEC Montréal.
Stéphanie Émond, Vice-President and Chief Impact Officer, FinDev Canada, an organization devoted to supporting development through the private sector. The goal of FinDev Canada’s financing and investment products and technical assistance solutions is to promote sustainable and inclusive growth in emerging markets and developing economies.
Frantz Saintellemy, President and Chief Operating Officer, LeddarTech, a leader in environmental sensing solutions for autonomous vehicles. He is also Université de Montréal’s 14th Chancellor.
How do businesses approach the issue CSR?
Frantz Saintellemy addressed the potential conflict between protecting shareholders’ interests and taking socially responsible action:
Luciano Barin Cruz added that there’s nothing wrong as such in using CSR to strengthen a company’s brand. If nothing else, it helps advance the conversation about social and environmental issues.
What businesses have to gain
Barin Cruz went on to explain that there are four different reasons why companies choose to act in a socially responsible way: to fend off risk, to explore opportunity, to comply with regulatory requirements and to uphold moral values. Right now, climate risk is high on the list of motivating factors. The recent forest fires in Quebec and other extreme weather events are compelling examples of elements that can put certain types of corporate assets in jeopardy.
As for issues involving moral values, they tend to be context-sensitive:
Choosing your battles
Before putting CSR practices in place, organizations need to identify which issues are most relevant to them and the context they operate in, and build a strategy around this. For small and mid-sized businesses, this can be tricky. Quebec may eventually have to develop an ecosystem of sorts to support them in their transition.
A number of international organizations are currently working to establish a standard set of KPIs that will allow businesses to measure and benchmark their progress. Barin Cruz recommended getting ahead of the curve in this regard and complying with these emerging standards developed by the International Sustainability Standards Board and the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group.
The limits of CSR
Sometimes, even the best intentions can backfire. Companies who go the CSR route may be accused of greenwashing. Or greenhushing, which is the choice to hide green initiatives to avoid cynical or hostile backlash.
The tensions between what a company wants to do from a CSR perspective and what they can actually accomplish can be difficult to work through.
A few tips on how to do it right
At the end of the webinar, the moderator asked all three panelists to talk about something they feel gets overlooked.