Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are two terms that often get talked about as the same thing. While they are similar, they are not the same; they belong together but are very much their own individual entities.
Both CSR and sustainability focus on how an organisation impacts the environment and society around it. By acting in a sustainable, socially, environmentally and economically-friendly way you can have a hugely positive impact on the future of your business and the world around you. Understanding the link between CSR and sustainability is an undeniably important part of that. Here’s a brief overview of the main difference between CSR and sustainability and what it means for your business:
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
CSR generally refers to an organisation’s commitment to carry out environmental and socially sustainable practises, acting in a responsible and beneficial way to the environment and the social landscapes around the business.
The concept of organisations acting responsibly is not a new one; the idea of corporate social responsibility dates back to the 1950s. However, with an ever increasing awareness of green issues (like climate change) and a larger societal push from consumers and governing bodies for companies to act in socially responsible ways, the term CSR has become increasingly relevant for modern businesses.
CSR is a business practise based around the impact an organisation has on society (employees, customers and members of the community around their business operations). So, with this in mind, a business might implement a CSR strategy with an aim to create a fairer business environment for its employees, reduce their impact on the local environment by reducing pollution or support charity initiatives that aid local communities.
A CSR report is both an internal and external facing document, which companies can use to communicate their CSR efforts. The main categories of which are environmental, societal (including ethical and philanthropic actions) and economic factors, so it could cover things like efforts to reduce waste, implementing an ethical employment policy, carrying out charity work or supporting the local economy through the creation of new jobs.
The way in which different organisations approach CSR can vary; some businesses might invest in a CSR strategy to simply be a good steward for the environment and society around their business, while some organisations may see CSR as a form of branding or reputational management. Often, the implementation of a CSR strategy will cover both of those areas but people are wiser to greenwashing than ever before so, where branding is concerned, authenticity is always better.
CSR is more concerned with looking back and reporting on what an organisation has done, whereas sustainability looks forward and is more focused on the company’s ability to survive long into the future. It’s a wider business and world view of longer-term economic, social and environmental issues and how best the company can navigate those going forward.
Sustainability covers both short and long-term goals, with investment on forward-thinking business practises, product development and sustainable growth. Both CSR and sustainability cover three main areas: environment, society and economy. Where CSR is focused on reporting on these areas, sustainability is focused on acting on these areas.
Making a long-term impact
When it comes to supporting charity, there are a variety of ways organisations do this. Company beach cleans or staff charity days are just a couple of examples. Activities like this are, without doubt, a great initiative and can help a company improve its brand reputation while supporting local charities and boosting staff morale. However, the difference between CSR and sustainability is that sustainability looks at any long-term benefits from this type of activity. If we take the charity day example, a sustainability focus might look at what long-term benefits this could have for the company. If we look at the beach clean example, it’s a similar approach; on its own a very worthwhile endeavour but perhaps when thinking with a sustainability lens there could be a development in beach cleaning technology that could benefit the future of the business. Charity actions like this would form part of a sustainability plan that would then be reported on as part of the company’s CSR strategy.
Focused on the future
In summary, CSR and sustainability are linked but not the same. CSR is a shorter-term reporting initiative whereas sustainability focuses on the future growth and survival of the business while supporting the environmental, social and economic elements that are reported on in CSR.
There are a multitude of benefits they both can bring to your business – from great brand positioning with CSR reporting through to developing new methods and products that will keep your business growing into the future with a strong sustainability focus (as well as a host of benefits to the wider economic, environmental and social landscape).
If you’d like to find out how we can help you with your sustainability journey, fill out a contact form to speak with one of our expert advisors.