CSR: Everything you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask...

CSR: Everything you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask...

Regardless of how you view corporate responsibility, there is no denying that it has been increasingly grabbing more news space in mainstream and alternative media than ever before. Especially in the wake of the ongoing BP oil spill fiasco, there remain some core questions regarding the extent, criteria and involvement of CSR that could use some honest answering. Whether you ask these questions as involved consumers or informed professionals, the answers remain central to the heart of our daily decision making: How do personal accountability and responsible actions extend to the brand I work for and associate myself with?

I turned to consulting expert and CEO of Korngold Consulting, Alice Korngold, who helps companies build fully integrated CSR strategies, including leadership development through nonprofit board service. (See below for more info on Korngold Consulting.) Bluntly candid and extremely relevant, the following Q&A should help you demystify CSR on the social, environmental, corporate and personal levels.

Also, stay tuned later this week for the complete interview, where we discuss her experience with company boards and nonprofits, what a good integrated CSR strategy involves, how the changing economic landscape is redefining MBA curricula, and dig deeper into the many aspects that together translate into corporate social responsibility.

Should I, as an individual, really be worried about saving the planet in the middle of a recession when getting that paycheck is way more of a priority?

This is a personal decision. Some people have a personal drive to work on environmental issues. Unless that is the case for you, then you should pursue jobs that interest you regardless of environmental matters. And, eventually, if and when you want to, you can always add volunteering to your activities.

Should I, as a company, really be worried about saving the planet amidst a recession when keeping that bottom line positive is way more of a priority?

As we see with BP, companies that are not paying attention to risk management, and environmental practices ultimately put their companies, their shareholders' value, and their employees' paychecks in jeopardy. In a cost-benefit analysis, it's quite obvious that BP would have been better off making better plans for the possibility of this oil spill; that would have been referred to as plans to protect the environment, or "save the planet."

I eat organic, why is it important that I work for a company that is sustainable in its operations?

Sustainable as a business means it is long-lasting, so that’s a good thing. I imagine you want to work with a company that invests in its people and the communities where it works so that the company has good, long-term relationships and prospects. Also, with BP as the negative example, I think you want to work at a company that is purposeful in how it uses the earth and the environment so that the resources are there for the long-term. For example, many companies, such as PepsiCo that rely on water for ingredients and production are investing heavily in efficiency in their operations, preserving water resources and enabling access to safe water.

I'm doing my part by volunteering for causes I care about, why should I have to worry about my company giving back? They have a great benefits package so they are, in a way, giving back!

Giving back in the communities around the world where your company does business is a way for your company to build good relationships. Also, many of your colleagues at work enjoy the opportunity to volunteer through work; they enjoy doing something with colleagues that is other-than-work, and they appreciate their company making volunteering easy and accessible.

I want to approach my boss about becoming more responsible in our operations and business strategy, but hesitate that it might paint me as a softie. I mean is there really a definable triple bottom line?

People: It depends on what your company does. As far as people go, I'd have to first ask you who the people are whom your company would like to bond together for relationship-building? Certainly the employees, in order to help them feel good about the company, enjoy working at the company and with each other (team-building), and maximize their productivity.

Next, most likely your company is interested in building relationships with the community where your company lives. This is valuable for a number of reasons, including "crisis glue;" that is, if something goes wrong, you want good will in the community towards your company. (I've seen this work in favor of a company that built good will, and I've seen it work against a company that had shunned volunteering prior to the crisis.) Additionally, if the vitality of the community where your company lives is relevant to your business, that's another reason for your company to engage in service. If you sell consumer products in the community, that's another point too.

Planet: Ask BP if regard for planet is relevant. If your company does not pay attention to environmental factors, it can come back to bite them. On the other hand, companies that think long-term about environmental factors will not only win good will, but are likely to have the resources they will need for the long term.

Profits: Companies see that CSR is good for business.

I get that CSR is important, but I'd rather work as an investment banker, consultant or lawyer after my MBA, and start paying off that college loan. If I personally do well, it'll enable me to do more for my community. Right?

Absolutely! That's a personal decision. And if that's the decision you make, you will have plenty of opportunities to volunteer or serve on boards and to make charitable contributions whenever you are ready.

A company's reputation and work culture is important in my decision to work for them, but not really their CSR quotient. It doesn't affect me personally, does it?

Again, that's entirely a personal decision. Also, your first job won't be your last job. Try it and see.


Alice Korngold is the CEO of Korngold Consulting LLC, which assists corporations in building fully integrated, high-impact CSR strategies, including leadership development through nonprofit board service. Korngold Consulting also trains and places business executives on nonprofit boards, and consults to nonprofit boards and leaders to strengthen governance for financial and strategic success. Besides being a vocal advocate of corporate responsibility on Twitter, Ms. Korngold is also an expert blogger for Fast Company.

Aman Singh is the CSR Editor at Vault.com, where she focuses on how corporate diversity practices and sustainability translate into recruitment and strategic development. Her blog, In Good Company, discusses on many of these issues.