It appears that Plan A has done nothing to protect M&S from the effects of the credit crunch, and no doubt the naysayers will trumpet this as proof positive that CR is just inconsequential fluff; an unnecessary and costly diversion from the business of maximising returns for shareholders.
If all CR means is a series of initiatives designed to protect and enhance corporate reputation, then they’re probably right. But therein, as Shakespeare once wrote, lies the rub…
CR or CSR (call it what you will) as a vague, umbrella term is undeniably still associated with this “CR 1.0” view of the world – i.e. “CR as PR”, a bolt-on to an otherwise unchanged business model.
Break it down into its constituent parts, however, and you begin to see a very different picture…
As Andrew Wilson of Corporate Citizenship suggested, reframe the question as, “Can good corporate governance survive a recession?” (or “good employee engagement” or “trusted relationships with customers and suppliers” or “energy efficiency”) and the answer ought to be a resounding “yes”. Indeed, in a recession, these things make more sense than ever.
Perhaps the most critical observation came from renowned economics professor, Paul Ormerod. He suggested that even the worst recessions seldom last more than 3 to 4 years, few going beyond more than 1 or 2.
As such, there’s a strong case for holding on to core strategies, and it suggests that a recession might provide a useful litmus test to sort out the fair-weather friends from the genuinely committed.
Harking back to my previous post, reflecting on what companies can learn from the example of Interface Inc., companies that pull back from CR are liable to label their activities as opportunistic, rather than an integral part of a considered, long-term strategy (a perfect example of what I’ve described as Level 2 on the CR Continuum).
And maybe that’s the silver lining to this particular cloud. At the very least, it should discourage greenwash and push companies to take the sustainability agenda much more seriously, focusing more closely on matters truly material to the business.
What will be really interesting to see is consumer reaction to a recession. As much as it will undoubtedly curb discretionary spending, it might equally provide a much needed drive towards more sustainable behaviours.
If it does, then the next economic upturn could be on a very different footing, and those companies that stay true to the cause will be well placed to reap the rewards.