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Has CSR reached its sell-by date? Part 2

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Previously I wrote an article that condemned corporate social responsibility (CSR) as it was currently understood and practiced by most companies. Below I set out my eight main charges against it in a little more detail.

Read part 1 here.

1 – CSR is a waste of precious business resources

CSR does not improve responsiveness, efficiency or profitability. It does not reduce risk or build trust. Paradoxically, it is more likely to increase risk and erode public trust.

Ten years ago, doing CSR was all the rage. Perhaps it still was around five years ago. Now, I have a strong sense that most businesses are doing it only because they perceive that they have very little choice. They believe they have to measure and report on some social and environmental indicators because everyone else is doing so, despite the costs involved and the fact that no one reads the resulting reports.

There is a long running joke that CSR reports are only read by students seeking environmental master’s degrees. Investors don’t read them.

A senior manager of one of the UK’s biggest investment funds recently told me reports are used solely to find the contact details of the report’s authors to arrange a face to face meeting or an interrogation over the telephone as to the firm’s management of social and environmental risks.

2 – CSR ignores the fundamentals of capitalism

Against the backdrop of rapid and serious environmental degradation, faltering prosperity and a widening wealth gap between the winners and the losers, businesses do not wish to be seen avoiding tax, violating human rights or cutting down rainforests. Nor do they wish to appear to have the single purpose of maximising profit for their shareholders.

However, our current economic system provides little option other than to focus on profit. So, as plainly evidenced in the world around us, despite what they might otherwise wish, businesses pursue irresponsible practices with the risk of looking bad and damaging their brands and reputations (see point 4).

The idea that CSR is practiced in the margins or as a bolt-on to normal business operations is reinforced by the failure of business to admit and discuss two inconvenient truths.

First, short termism forces business to offload costs onto society and the environment and to exploit consumers, employees, suppliers and others.

Second, businesses which refuse to do these things risk ceding advantage to less scrupulous competitors.

3 – It’s the brand and marketing people who control the message

For the failure to have the necessary honest debate about the role of business, its true impact on society and how we are going to create a global economy that is fit for the 21st century, I place a large part of the blame on the brand and marketing people.

These are the people with real power inside big businesses in that they control the message. Sadly, the great majority continue to follow the same old rules which dictate that the messages that emanate from the businesses must always be positive.

This means we simply never hear businesses talk about (profitable) processes which are fundamentally exploitative or unsustainable. We also don’t hear how emerging practices and processes which do have positive social and environmental impacts are still dwarfed by processes with negative impacts.

But this should only be expected as business makes the transition from a profits-at-any-cost approach to one where the pursuit of profit is balanced with the interests of society. The lack of openness and clarity means there is a lack of debate and engagement and this hurts us all.

There is clear conflict between the long-term vision and the ethical values business wishes to inculcate and embody and what it can practically achieve when it is forced to deliver financial results, quarter by quarter by quarter.

Until businesses start being honest about this, it is difficult to start the journey towards proper responsibility.

4 – Businesses that ‘do CSR’ keep making the wrong kinds of headlines

There appear to be yawning gaps between the pictures businesses paint of themselves in their CSR reports and what they actually do. Here are a few examples:

5 – CSR is about doing a little bit of good to offset a whole lot of bad

Having sound credentials regarding certain functions within a business doesn’t automatically equate with strong responsible performance right across the organisation.

Getting it right on environmental issues doesn’t make community impact, human rights, or financial and governance issues any less important. Neither can effective governance, for example, be used as a proxy for responsible marketplace practices.

We should be recognising and celebrating best responsible practices for what they are. We should be giving credit where it is due, thinking about how to improve further, and seeking to improve responsibility performance in all areas of the business.

However, good news can often be hard to come by and those marketing people like a positive story (see point 3).

As a result, it is often the case that the little bit of good that a company does is blown out of all proportion and presented as evidence of its burnished ethical credentials and values-driven approach. This can and does backfire, for example by eroding public trust and damaging, rather than enhancing, business reputation.

6 – CSR is downright fraud

The line between exaggeration and downright fraud is a fine one. In my view, and I believe a large proportion of the public feel similarly, it is a line crossed by many businesses.

CSR is at its most dysfunctional and harmful when employed by cynical businesses which manufacture positive impacts within some small part of their operations, and make a big song and dance about it, simply as a means to maintain licence to operate and so continue with unsustainable, irresponsible, exploitative, unfair practices.

7 – CSR is not relevant or believable to the man in the street

As both a term and a concept, CSR is meaningless to the man in the street.

Banks, oil companies, manufacturers, retailers, food brands, utility companies, mobile phone network operators, holiday operators et al, want to describe themselves as ethical, responsible, sustainable, fair, good corporate citizens, on ‘our side’ and/or values-driven. But a sceptical public simply doesn’t swallow it.

It is not just what we, the public, read or hear in the news: it is our own experiences which shape our views and beliefs. When things go more or less according to plan, the claim of businesses to be responsible is just a dull humming noise in the background. But when something goes wrong, as inevitably it will, these claims become problematic.

How fair, ethical and ‘on our side’ is a corporation that ‘deals’ with a problem by hiding behind a slick professional PR consultancy? Or one that provides a complaining customer no other redress than a minimum-waged call centre worker, located goodness knows where?

8 – CSR destroys public trust

For all the reasons given above, CSR destroys rather than enhances public trust in business and this lack of trust is a major problem.

For the business, it ultimately increases costs and risk. For the individual, it reinforces a sense of helplessness in that, no matter what one may wish, it is impossible to identify and support fair, ethical business and thereby push towards a more responsible society.

Can this be changed? I believe it can and, indeed, I believe that, for those businesses willing to make the first steps towards more openness and honesty, there will be great rewards to be gained. Public opinion is changing and businesses need to move with that change or be left behind.

Criticism without suggestions or solutions would be pointless. We have developed Responsible 100 as a tool to help businesses to start that journey. At the same time it is a public movement and a means for their customers, employees and investors to see what they are achieving.

We believe that through Responsible 100’s simple, powerful, flexible methodology, businesses can make real responsibility a driver of profitability and create a better business for a better world. Please join our growing movement at www.responsible100.com.

Michael Solomon is director of Responsible 100On April 15, an event in London will question whether CSR has reached its sell-by date. Click here to find out more information.

Further reading:

Has CSR reached its sell-by date? Part 1

‘Corporate social responsibility is an attitude of mind’

Sustainability in the workplace reflects on employees’ personal choices, says study

Taking steps towards a new ethical age of business

Merging the great business dilemma: profit v sustainability, responsibility and ethics

Michael Solomon is the director of Responsible 100. With a background in publishing, Michael hit upon the basic Responsible 100 concept when asked to launch a new CSR magazine and website. Troubled by the motives for large corporates to engage in CSR and the quality of their CSR outputs, he saw the need for an alternative approach which guaranteed credible information from businesses. Responsible 100 is a management tool, a business ranking, a public internet platform, an identification mark and a growing social movement. It includes leading businesses as well as NGO and campaign group partners.

Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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