Overview of CSR: What is CSR, its benefits and critiques?

Two weeks ago, I introduced the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility. This week’s post digs deeper into defining CSR and exploring its benefits and critiques in a broad context while future posts will focus on the application of CSR in various contexts while exploring some best practices from around the world and down the street. By first building a strong understanding of what CSR is, we can then explore what CSR can be. CSR

What is CSR?

A few definitions:

Corporate social responsibility is about the integration of social, environmental, and economic considerations into the decision-making structures and processes of business…Ultimately, it is about delivering improved shareholder and debtholder value, providing enhanced goods and services for customers, building trust and credibility in the society in which the business operates, and becoming more sustainable over the longer term (Industry Canada)

Beyond “going green,” [CSR and] sustainability is a holistic approach that integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into corporate strategy so the company can responsibly meet immediate demands without compromising its ability to remain profitable and enjoy a strong reputation over the long term (Hill + Knowlton Strategies).

CSR encapsulates both environmental and social issues to provide a measure of ethical and sustainable development (Intertek).

A built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms…It is a process that encourages positive impacts through activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders, and all other members of the public sphere who may be considered stakeholders (Wikipedia).

CSR is also known as:

–          Corporate conscience

–          Corporate citizenship

–          Social performance

–          Sustainable responsible business

–          Responsible business

–          Corporate sustainability plans

What are the benefits of CSR?

  • Improved efficiency
    • Strategies and plans create stronger financial performance and profitability
    • Integrated reporting: Incorporates financial and nonfinancial ESG performance in a single document
  • Improved relationships and communications
    • Stronger relationships with communities, both geographic and social
    • Sustainability reports help organizations communicate their policies and priorities to the public
    • Communicate responsible behaviour
    • Enhance supplier relations by aligning values and CSR practices throughout your supply chain
    • Improved relations with the investment community and better access to capital
  • Increased engagement
    • Collaboration with leadership integrates stakeholder perspectives into operations
    • Initiatives actively engage key stakeholders e.g. employees, shareholders, clients, partners
  • Enhance reputation
    • Mitigates risks associated with reputation by having plans and strategies in place to avoid and mitigate risk
    • Plans and strategies can monitor reputation, brand, and media rankings
    • Achieve transparency through disclosure
  • Brand differentiation
    • Creates a unique selling point
    • Build customer loyalty based on distinctive and shared ethical values
  • Human resource benefits
    • Aid in recruitment, retention, motivation, learning, innovation, and productivity
    • Enhances perception of the company among its staff
    • Can encourage customer orientation among frontline employees

What are the critiques, challenges, or concerns of CSR?

  • Distracts from the economic role of businesses
    • Corporations are only responsible to their shareholders and only people can have social responsibilities
  • Merely window-dressing or greenwashing; questionable motives
    • Advertising campaigns to distract the public from ethical questions posed by their operations
    • CSR plans contradict the actions of a company, seen as hypocrites or insincere
  • Better governmental and international regulation and enforcement is needed over voluntary measures and participation


A comprehensive CSR plan and actionable strategies can help mitigate the potential critiques to CSR. So, what does a ‘good’ plan look like? What are the key ingredients to creating and implementing a successful plan? How can organizations small and large engage in socially responsible behaviour? The next post in this series will explore such questions by examining CSR in Action. Until then, what are your questions relating to CSR? What additional benefits and critiques are you aware of? Connect with me to keep the conversation (and questions) going!