On April 15, an event in London (which you can watch live here) will question whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) has reached its sell-by date.
Blue & Green Tomorrow has posed a handful of questions about CSR to each of the companies involved, ahead of April 15.
Next up to share their views is Vicky Murry, who works as head of sustainability at organic health and beauty company Neal’s Yard Remedies for three days a week; spending the rest of her time as principle sustainability adviser at Forum for the Future.
What does ‘corporate social responsibility’ mean to you?
To me, CSR is an inadequate response to the scale of the global challenges we face. Most organisations focus their CSR programmes on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – a new recycling initiative here; a community project there. And OK, this can be a good place to start, but needs to move quickly to tacking the tricky stuff.
In the face of climate change impacts, a growing population and resource shortages, incremental change won’t be enough to stay in business. Business leaders need to be scrutinising their business models and asking if they’re fit for purpose in a future operating environment that is going to be very different.
When you keep one eye on the future like this, you begin to demand a lot more from today.
Can you explain the difference, if any, between responsible business and corporate social responsibility?
I don’t see a difference to be honest. Both, to me, imply a voluntary responsibility – something that can be opted in or out of.
What we need is much more fundamental change – helping to shape a more sustainable world. This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’, it’s a business imperative.
How widespread/mainstream is corporate social responsibility, in the sense you describe, and do you have any best-in-class examples?
I don’t think there’s a business out there that is truly sustainable. Though there are some pioneering companies with the public ambition and programmes in place that aim to get there.
Think Interface’s Mission Zero or Kingfisher and Net Positive. There are also (often smaller) companies, like Neal’s Yard Remedies, that have had ethics and sustainability at their heart from the very start – and although we’re not immune from future challenges, we’re arguably in a better place to tackle them.
For example, we’ve worked with many of our suppliers for over 30 years, building relationships with a level of trust that isn’t easy to replicate. This will stand us in good stead for tackling future challenges together.
Without stealing the event’s thunder, has ‘corporate social responsibility passed its sell-by date? And why do you say that?
Yes. I think the global challenges ahead need a more radical response.
The good news, though, is that with a bit of vision, an existing CSR platform could be a useful springboard for more fundamental change and making the most of future business opportunities.
What will corporate social responsibility look like in 10 years’ time?
Collaborative projects tackling systemic challenges too big for any one company to tackle alone. This coupled with radical innovation that creates real solutions. Check out Forum’s Sustainable Shipping Initiative for the prototype!
The CSR event will be live streamed for free here.