Corporate Social Responsibility – How responsible are companies?May 1, 2010
Lately, a lot of corporations, big and small, have suddenly woken up to the idea of corporate social responsibility. It’s a fancy word and it is no wonder that the corporate world has embraced it with a lot of gusto that belies the subtlety of the rather less than considerable impact it has on the balance sheet. So, it is not so difficult to find some of the smarter organizations wearing the corporate social responsibility badge largely driven by the positive marketing hype it brings along with it while doing precious little. The poster boy for such initiatives is invariably around the term ‘Green’. This has come as no surprise as promoting green is a mix of many virtues primary among them the broader idea of saving the only planet we have and more often than not, you can get away by cutting innocuous employee or operational costs. Most corporations can get by doing this, like many of us satisfy our individual green morality by joining facebook campaigns supporting the planet. That begs the question: Is there actually money to be made by going green?
The answer may be somewhat complicated and like most initiatives that work, it probably is somewhat of a long haul. We can never know immediately if investments in green initiatives by organizations will actually end up being just investments or generate actual returns, but probably a stage wise implementation of such initiatives can make organizations realize benefits, if any in financial terms and also based on such benefits, they can make sure such initiatives have long realistic impact on the environment.
A stage wise implementation may take an organization through a Green Maturity Curve (if you will):
Level 1: Education – Most organizations are precisely doing this right now. This includes instructions to reduce printing, having bus days when employees are encouraged to take the company bus, planting trees on special days, video contests on nature, conservation et all and conducting sessions. This, inspite of being a lot of hogwash mostly, does have an impact on individuals, especially non-believers, but then it hardly costs any money.
Level 2: Put in a little money: This is where it becomes slightly interesting. The organization introduces subsidies on things that impact the environment or say makes bus rides completely free. Basically, this is when you start putting money where your mouth is.
Level 3: Put in Significant money: At this stage, the organization is really a believer in things green and starts investing in real technology, be it alternative energy sources or starts implementing a vision to cut carbon emissions to near zero in a phased way.
Level 4: Making Money: At this stage, as the environmentalists tell us, the green investments start making green economic sense. You start saving on reduced energy use, get carbon tax credits and truly start deserving the bragging rights.
I am not a great believer in all things green and neither a non-believer. At worst, it will probably do some good is what I tend to think. So, the levels may be wrongs and so can the nomenclature, but I guess it’s time organizations start taking corporate social responsibility responsibly and do what they profess to believe.