CSR and social change

In some ways now would not seem to be the best time to be starting a company, with an economic slowdown gathering pace in this country and abroad. On the other hand, more and more of us are (I hope) becoming aware of the issues behind the ‘sustainability’ model. We are more conscious of the fact that our behaviour needs to change both at individual and societal levels. If economic growth is to continue far into the future, present global difficulties notwithstanding, it needs to happen in a sustainable way and promote sustainable growth at the company level via Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

If CSR is to be harnassed to support both our own goals and those of our clients, it needs to be communicated to many stakeholders: customers, investors, the wider community and other associate organisations. Ethical Public Relations are the means by which this can happen. Traditional models of organisation performance tend to have a narrow vision of stakeholders. The latter might include owners, customers, and employees. But when the externalities of organisation performance are taken into account, stakeholders multiply. The energy consumption of a firm may impose costs on the environment if the energy is generated by non-renewable means. These costs are in this example paid by those outside the firm. If the costs were internalised by the firm, they may be forced to consume renewable sources of energy instead to maintain profitability, or simply to pay the environmental costs of pollution. If this happened at the economy-wide level, it would be revolutionary. There would however be (and is) tremendous resistance to those taxes and regulations that internalise negative environmental externalities. The campaign against road-pricing is one example and is made even more difficult by the recent large rise in oil and petrol prices which make driving more expensive.

One benefit of the current relatively high level of oil prices has been to force people to economise on the means of transport that consume petrol. Although prices have recently fallen back a little, they remain historically high. So the international market for oil is changing behaviour already.

Citizens of all nations will hopefully want to encourage a step-by-step change in business behaviour. In the long term these changes could create a radical transformation in society and the economy. We can start by behaving ethically and sustainably ourselves. This can sometimes be difficult. Sitting at a computer typing a blog consumes energy, and at the moment my household is not self-sufficient in renewable energy generation. I am imposing costs on the environment. So I will bring this entry to a close shortly!

CSR is not without flaws as a model, but companies can still harness it for the wider good. Here’s to a better future.