1. The intent of CSR for a given organization.
2. Its ideological context of CSR for that organization.
3. The internal and external marketing spin.
4. The efficacy of a given company’s approach (with respect to its intent).
5. The impact of CSR on the bottom line.
Only when all five of these areas are carefully assessed can we know what CSR “looks like” from any perspective. Often only one or two of these areas are examined or emphasized, which is one way to quickly skew data to confirm a preexisting bias. Taken altogether, however, we can begin piecing together the objectives and effects of CSR in a holistic way. What makes this challenging is that, in many instances, the change agents involved (top execs, board members, activist shareholders, etc.) are not entirely transparent about one or more of these components, preferring to engineer outcomes that align with an undisclosed or deliberately clouded agenda. Needless to say, CSR can be used as cover to accomplish many objectives that are not — in any way — socially responsible.
That said, when there is transparency, genuinely prosocial intent and ideology, and a skillful approach, the result can be a measurable offset to negative externalities, an improved work environment for employees, a higher quality product or service for customers, and (potentially) an increase in brand and employee loyalty from those with shared values. However, none of this necessarily facilitates one of the two extremes promoted by proponents or critics: i.e. cumbersome business processes or improved profitability. Once systems, metrics and adjustment strategies are in place, it generally seems to be the case that CSR is not that difficult to implement, but also has little impact on the bottom line one way or the other.
So really, if the intent is genuine, the results can satisfy that intent without having much influence on business at all. Which is interesting, since, if the intent is not genuine and the efforts are superficial, this can actually backfire in a spectacular way once it is disclosed (see factor #3).
My 2 cents.
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