Friday, February 12, 2010

Saying "No thanks" to social responsibility

My Financial Post column this week takes a look at the notion of corporate social responsibility, and in particular the growing feeling that business owners have an obligation to “give back” to society and help create a better world.

I don't agree. I think business owners have their own problems to face first, and that “giving back” to the community – while appropriate, satisfying and always needed – is and must always remain optional.

Having said that, I think that companies that don't give back will face a growing disadvantage as customers, employees and suppliers increasingly demand that companies they deal with reveal more and more about their track record on environmental and social issues.

(Look at the two US retailers that this week announced they won't buy petroleum sourced from dirty sources such as Alberta’s oil sands. The pressure is just beginning.)

As if business wasn't tough enough already.

Read the full story here.


Tom Snell said...

Hi Rick, thanks for your post.

I both agree and disagree with your position on integrating CSR into start-ups.

I do agree that start-ups should not be spending time and resources on causes and issues if they can not afford it. However, my definition of social responsibility includes making efforts to maximize positive impacts and reduce negative impacts, not simply writing cheques or volunteering somewhere (although those are both nice things to do).

There are a lot of things that small businesses and start-ups can do to be responsible and help make the world a better place without hurting their competitiveness. For example, using recycled or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) paper, engaging employees and treating them respectfully, and promoting water and energy conservation in the office are all simple CSR practices that come at low or no cost and can actually help save money, increase productivity, and bolster your reputation. And these things all help the company 'give back' to society, although the linkages might not be as obvious or direct as writing a cheque to a non-profit or NGO.

So yes, don't do anything you can't afford to, but there are small things that start-ups can do to be socially responsible, and these low or no cost things can actually help competitiveness.

Thanks again for the interesting post.


lee said...

CSR is becoming a big consideration now in business. So it is best to embrace change and work on it.