The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Strategic CSR - Timberland

I recently returned an old, defective product to Timberland. The overall exchange experience with the company was excellent for two reasons: First, they replaced the product without question (customer service that is increasingly rare, but reminded me of other companies that do this well, such as Zappos—see CSR Newsletters October 7, 2011 and October 6, 2008) and, second, it was very interesting to see the packaging that accompanied the new product.

In particular, I was interested in the carbon footprint label on every product the firm ships. I had heard about Timberland’s work on carbon footprints (see also Tropicana’s carbon footprint of its orange juice, Issues: Sustainability, pp.321-322) and I use a video on Timberland in my classes that highlights its progressive stance on carbon emissions (, but this is the first one of the labels I had seen. The label reports firm performance in four distinct sections:

·         Climate impact (use of renewable energy)
·         Chemicals used (PVC-free)
·         Resource consumption (both eco-friendly and recycled materials)
·         Trees planted through 2009

The information on the label is not product specific, but firm-level measures that are averaged over individual products. There are also detailed footnotes on the label explaining calculations and including limited disclaimers. I point out these limitations not to cast suspicions on the effort, but to recognize we are still in the early stages of this complex measurement process. Timberland (along with firms like Walmart and Tropicana) is leading the way and creating the knowledge necessary to measure CSR performance more effectively in comparable ways across firms and industries.

For more information from Timberland as well as an image of the carbon footprint label that now accompanies all products, see:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Strategic CSR - Recycling

The article in the url below reports an environmental success story:

As befits what used to be the world’s largest landfill, the future Freshkills Park on Staten Island may represent the planet’s greatest act of ecological atonement. The 2,200-acre site, which the Department of Parks and Recreation calls a “reminder of wastefulness, excess and environmental neglect,” will, as it evolves into a park over the next 25 years, feature every environmentally correct practice known to landscape architecture. There will be composting toilets and “rain gardens” to capture water for use in irrigation. Hundreds of acres of meadows will be sown with native grass and wildflower seeds. Goats will graze on invasive plant species like phragmites. And educational and cultural programs will emphasize sustainability. Four enormous waste mounds, built up over 53 years, will be transformed.

The park, which is five times the size of Central Park, took many years to transform (the first sections of the dump were “capped” in the 1990s and the site will not be fully completed until 2018), but it is encouraging to report significant progress concerning such a big project.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strategic CSR - Emotions

The article in the first url below draws a distinction between moral intuition (“the physical horror at seeing someone hit by a car or the tears of a parent whose son is kidnapped”) and moral reason (“the more intellectual process of grasping larger tragedies, like floods and famine”). The distinction  between the two helps explain why we tend to be more compassionate on an individual level, but more dispassionate when thinking about groups of people or other societies:

“The former is a stronger, more emotionally visceral reaction, which is why people often show far more compassion for an individual victim than for a dozen, or 100, or an entire region.”

I think the distinction has value in a CSR context because it helps explain why we see individuals acting in different ways in different contexts. It explains, for example, why we can have one set of values in our personal lives and a different set of values when at work (e.g., why someone might condone massive pollution by their firm, but go out of their way to recycle waste at home):

“… a recent study … found that when study participants saw a picture of a single victim, a 7-year-old girl named Rokia, they donated twice as much money to a hunger charity than when told only that the organization was working to save millions.”

Not that we need any more evidence that humans are far from rational actors, but why should this be when, clearly, more social value is added by saving “millions” than by acting to save one individual? The article in the second url below makes a similar point to the first article, but does so by distinguishing between empathy (which is often strong in humans) and moral action (which is much weaker):

Empathy orients you toward moral action, but it doesn’t seem to help much when that action comes at a personal cost. You may feel a pang for the homeless guy on the other side of the street, but the odds are that you are not going to cross the street to give him a dollar.

Why is it that we empathize, but are much less likely to act, even when the personal cost (e.g., $1) is minimal? Not only is our understanding of the causal link between empathy and action unclear, but the ability to empathize often results in inconsistent action:

It influences people to care more about cute victims than ugly victims. It leads to nepotism. It subverts justice; juries give lighter sentences to defendants that show sadness. It leads us to react to shocking incidents, like a hurricane, but not longstanding conditions, like global hunger or preventable diseases.

I think that our ability to rationalize simultaneously contradictory thoughts and behavior (e.g., to have separate identities and values at home and work; care more for an individual than a society) helps explain much of the organizational malfeasance we see in the news every day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Strategic CSR - Business schools

Last week’s issue of Businessweek contains two articles that appear on the surface to contradict each other. While one article appears to be criticizing business schools for failing to teach CSR sufficiently, the second article is celebrating the growing numbers of CSR and ethics-related classes available to students. The article in the first url below complains about how business schools need to do a better job of teaching CSR because:

Companies want graduates with a profit orientation alongside a CSR orientation.

While the demand for such students is there, however, the authors argue that business schools are failing to deliver the appropriately-trained graduates:

“…business schools just are not doing their teaching job very effectively. The sights are not set high enough. Business schools don’t act as if CSR were an integral part of accounting, finance, marketing, and so on. The practice of finance, for example, can have ethical and social implications every single day—so it needs to be taught that way. And business schools are not taking up the invitation from companies to help move CSR beyond the special departments they’re so often in, and into every department, every day. [Also] business schools aren’t focusing on the right students. Schools have tended to focus on the MBA level. But only about 30 percent of business school graduates in the U.S. are MBAs. We need to focus a lot more on the other 70 percent. Undergraduate business students are still forming their idea of what business is all about. Most undergraduate business programs are the last formal education that most students will get—which means this is our only shot to get them on the right track.

The article in the second url below, however, looks in detail at the growing number of business school elective classes that encourage students to study and work with nonprofit or humanitarian projects:

…electives are their opportunity to help business students see beyond the numbers, grow personally and professionally, and even wax philosophical. Electives … are a chance to do something a little out of the ordinary. When done well, say professors, electives can get students to work in ways they might not have imagined. There are a slew of MBA electives being offered at top B-schools—too many to name, in fact—that are designed to do just that, and make the world a better place in the process.

In reality, the articles complement each other and reveal the core problem with how business schools are currently approaching CSR. While the number of electives is increasing, compulsory core classes in CSR or, perhaps more importantly, integrating CSR throughout existing core classes, is much less common. The first article provides the solution to its own problem:

Make social responsibility part of every subject area in real time. Teach students exactly how social responsibility applies to, say, marketing at the very same time that you’re teaching them to be whizzes at applying all the other tools of that field—in the same class and at the same time as part of a fully integrated toolkit and thought system. They’re inseparable. Business schools fall short of their potential by separating the inseparable. Most say that teaching values is important, but their values don’t truly penetrate the DNA of the school. Adding an ethics class to a century-old business school program makes ethics marginal, not pervasive. Doing corporate citizenship as an intensive, inspiring orientation is terrific—but the impact is limited if it’s set aside once classes begin.

The penultimate sentence from this quote is central to this issue:

Adding an ethics class to a century-old business school program makes ethics marginal, not pervasive.

Take care

Instructor Teaching Site:
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at:

Occupy Our Business Schools
Business schools need to do a better job of teaching corporate social responsibility. Step one: Make it an integral part of every teachable moment
By David L. Ikenberry and Donna Sockell

MBA Electives Offer Hands-On Learning
Business school electives have taken a turn for the creative, tackling everything from New York City's problems to health care to humanitarian relief
By Francesca Di Meglio

Friday, January 20, 2012

Strategic CSR - Society

The article in the url below is a review of a recently published book about marriage within the African-American community. I forward it to you because of the final two sentences in the final paragraph. The reviewer sums up the message of the book she is reviewing as more than a critique of marriage—it is “an alarm bell warning of the failure of American partnerships.” She concludes her review with the following:

[The author] alerts us to the consequences [of these failing partnerships] for families, and I would add that the alarm rings beyond marriage, to a broader social collapse that includes distrust of neighbors, weakened social networks and community institutions, evictions, foreclosures, diminished opportunity, hostility toward those we deem different and skepticism toward enduring human connection. In short, the ties that bind need tightening.

If that is an accurate depiction of where we (the U.S.?) are as a society, then where do we go from here? More pertinently, where does it leave us regarding CSR? How do we start repairing the relationships that form the foundation of a more cohesive society in which corporations have an incentive to be socially responsible and their stakeholders have an incentive to hold them to account for their actions?

Teaching ethics and CSR in business schools has to be an important part of the answer. Look for more on this on Monday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Strategic CSR - CSR vs. ethics

The article in the url below draws an instructive distinction between a socially responsible company and an ethical company. The author is not objective (he is writing for the Institute of Global Ethics’ newsletter Ethics Newsline), but that does not diminish the value of the conversation. In short, the author conceptualizes CSR as a subset of the broader idea of ethics:

“Responsibility … is one of five distinct core values that define, globally, the idea of ethics. A necessary but not sufficient condition for ethics, it needs to be fleshed out by the other four values: honesty, respect, fairness, and compassion. Ethics requires all five. So can an individual or a corporation have a strong sense of responsibility without necessarily being honest? Yes. The opposite can also arise, where a deeply honest person proves to be irresponsible. These are two big, different ideas.”

Partly, this characteristic of being more than one thing at once reflects the complexity of modern corporations. No firm is either all-good or all-bad and any means of measuring CSR that suggests otherwise is not sufficiently subtle to be of value.

It is the author’s broader argument, however, that is stimulating. While I am not wholly convinced of the details (and the reader comments at the bottom of the webpage raise some good points), the article is meaningful on a deeper level. Implicitly, the author is taking aim at the superficial nature of much of the work firms refer to as CSR, but he is also questioning the ability of the CSR community to validate that work. This explains why firms like Enron and BP can be heralded by the CSR community as examples of ‘best-practice’ organizations, only to be later exposed as unethical (non-CSR) firms in reality. Whenever a third party attempts to evaluate a firm, they are liable to some degree of obfuscation or distortion:

“Of course corporate responsibility attracts customers. Of course it is good business. And of course it must be fully ethical. They must not only do the right things (which is CR) but do things right (which is ethics). Increasingly, customers are demanding both. Look for smart CR companies to make this connection quickly and bring the two together.”

Greenwashing is a label that has become too-easily thrown around, but it speaks to a core problem within CSR—the ability of stakeholders to define and measure what we think of as responsible behavior in a way that allows comparisons across organizations. The answer is easy to conceptualize and difficult to implement. First, we need to find a way to assess accurately those firms that are genuinely conducting business in a way that is qualitatively different to those firms that are simply using CSR to sell more products; then, we need to educate the firm’s stakeholders to differentiate among these firms in ways that reward the firms that most constructively contribute to social value, broadly defined.

Both steps are essential to ensure sufficient, meaningful change.

Take care

Monday, January 16, 2012

Strategic CSR - Welcome back!

Welcome back to the Strategic CSR Newsletter!
The first Newsletter of the Spring semester is below.
As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.

The article in the url below contains some interesting/alarming/unsurprising/disputed data (take your pick depending on your perspective) about the level of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010. These data were released in December and are the most recent available. Some excerpts from the article:

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.

[Scientists] do not expect the extraordinary growth to persist, but do expect emissions to return to something closer to the 3 percent yearly growth of the last decade, still a worrisome figure that signifies little progress in limiting greenhouse gases. The growth rate in the 1990s was closer to 1 percent yearly.

In the United States, emissions dropped by a remarkable 7 percent in the recession year of 2009, but rose by just over 4 percent [in 2010], the new analysis shows. This country is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, pumping 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere last year. The United States was surpassed several years ago by China, where emissions grew 10.4 percent in 2010, with that country injecting 2.2 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

‘Each year that emissions go up, there’s another year of negotiations, another year of indecision,’ said Glen P. Peters, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo and a leader of the group that produced the new analysis. ‘There’s no evidence that this trajectory we’ve been following the last 10 years is going to change.’

Combining this news with the failure of the climate negotiators to reach a substantive agreement on an extension to the Kyoto Protocol in Durban in December (, together with Canada’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol altogether (, and the end of 2011 was not good for the environment.

Something has to change, and pretty soon, although all the signs indicate that this change will not happen in 2012.

Take care