Finding a path in the sustainability jungle. A framework for corporate action
Collective concerns about sustainable development and proposals about how to achieve sustainability have produced a confusing body of terminology that is more like a jungle of issues than a framework to enable focused action. Businesses, in particular, with their global reach, influence, capabilities and supposed deep pockets, are expected to contribute more towards sustainability; and yet the lack of clear definitions has left a vacuum of corporate guidance. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a synonym for corporate action towards sustainability, but companies continue to struggle to understand how to deal with this issue. This paper looks at some important drivers that link the overall discussion of sustainability with the business world. It presents a framework for corporate action that facilitates a practical approach grounded in existing market realities. By separating social responsiveness (social compliance) from social responsibility (CSR), it provides a two-phase approach that gives priority to credibly implementing social compliance without missing opportunities for leadership and excellence. The importance of social compliance in legitimizing, strengthening and building trust in market regulatory institutions is emphasized. It is argued that experimenting with unfocused CSR often is a zero-sum game for society, and that CSR without an explicit social compliance framework lacks credibility. From the basis of a convincingly implemented social compliance framework, corporations may express their social responsibility as a voluntary measure and create social value more directly, without compromising their ability to create economic value. Because of the urgency and need for prioritization to achieve sustainable development it is proposed that corporations shift their CSR focus towards developing countries. Three models that have been identified as opportunities for corporations to contribute to this goal are discussed.
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