Corporate Social Responsibility: Big Bucks, Little Bang

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Corporate Social Responsibility: Big Bucks, Little Bang

It’s hard to argue with an idea that sounds as positive as “corporate social responsibility.” After all, corporations should make a positive impact on the world, and the scandals at Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom demonstrate what can happen when unscrupulous CEOs put profits ahead of every other goal. But some theorists and some executives seem to be carrying the idea too far.

According to Patricia Aburdene, in her new book Megatrends 2010, corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is the next big thing in business. She points to the growing participation of companies in groups that promote what she calls “conscious capitalism.” Consider these examples:

Roughly half of the Fortune 500 corporations now belong to a non-profit organization called Business for Social Responsibility, or BSR. Companies that belong to BSR are expected to stop focusing solely on the single bottom line of profitability and instead be concerned with a “triple bottom line” of economics, society, and the environment. When BSR was started in 1992, only a few companies were members; now about 400 companies have joined the group.

More than 70 companies have adopted the principles of CERES, or Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Companies. Sunoco was the first Fortune 500 company to embrace these principles in 1993. Now Coca-Cola, Nike, Bank of America, and other corporations have done the same. The CERES principles include protecting the biosphere, reducing waste, conserving energy, reducing risks, restoring the environment, and informing the public.

More than 700 companies have agreed to follow the guidelines created by the Global Reporting Initiative, or GRI, for reporting on how their operations affect the economy, society, and the environment.

According to surveys, most senior executives assume there’s a connection between corporate social responsibility and business performance. For example, a PricewaterhouseCoopers poll found that 70 percent of CEOs believe that CSR is vital to their firms’ profitability.

Moreover, a recent survey by The McKinsey Quarterly revealed that more than 80 percent of 4,238 executives across 116 countries believe that companies should be “socially responsible.” According to the executives, corporations should contribute to the public good by going above and beyond what is legally required to minimize pollution and other negative effects of their operations. Only 17 percent of executives believe that generating returns for investors should be the sole focus of a business...

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