The guys at Cone ask a great question on their CR page – “What does it say about a concept when there’s no consensus on what to call it?”
It’s so true. When you think of all the terms that are used, the list just goes on and on – Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Social Responsibility, corporate citizenship, corporate governance, corporate accountability, sustainability, sustainable development, socially responsible investment… yada yada yada.
What I’ve been trying to get my head around (and rather failing so far) is whether any of this really matters.
The part of me that says that it does argues as follows…
Look at thought leaders in the field – whether it’s brand and communication agencies like Cone or Futerra, think-tanks like Tomorrow’s Company, or companies like Interface – and it’s clear that the overarching terminology of choice these days is “CR” or, increasingly, “sustainability”.
We’ve all long since ditched “CSR” – partly because it’s inaccurate (explicit reference to “social responsibility” seeming to imply the exclusion of environmental considerations); but mostly because we feel the term has become tainted – synonymous with greenwash and the outdated practices of the “CR as PR” brigade.
If you really want to position yourself at the leading edge, the more theoretically-minded part of me says, it pays to take heed of these trends.
But the part of me that says it doesn’t matter has some good arguments too…
As clear as the distinction may be in our own minds between “CR/sustainability” (as strategic driver of innovation and value creation) and “CSR” (as tactical bolt-on to bolster reputation), is the terminology really that important?
In many ways it’s no different to the age-old arguments of “personnel vs. HR” or “internal comms vs. engagement”. Academics and practitioners – me included – can and will seek to elucidate the differences, but it doesn’t pay to get too precious about it, provided that your audience(s) get what you’re talking about.
Whether people notice a material difference between these concepts, or just view it as old wine in new bottles, ultimately boils down to how organisations put them into practice.
It’s what you do that counts, says the pragmatist within me, not what badge you give it.
What do you think?