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

To sign-up to receive the CSR Newsletters regularly during the fall and spring academic semesters, e-mail author David Chandler at david.chandler@ucdenver.edu


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Strategic CSR - Shareholder value

The article in the url below offers a defense of shareholder value as the orienting purpose of the firm. It is not, the author argues, that shareholder value is wrong, but it is the way it has been implemented that is at fault:
 
"The culprit is not shareholder value but rather corporate executives, investment managers and the business press who incorrectly believe that the governing objective of shareholder value is to boost a company's near-term stock price by meeting the market's quarterly earnings expectations. This misguided thinking has hijacked the good name of 'shareholder value'. Consequently, companies commonly 'talk' shareholder value but 'walk' quarterly earnings in their everyday operations."
 
Instead, the author articulates what shareholder value should look like:
 
"Let us be clear what managing for shareholder value really means. It means focusing on cash flow, not earnings. It means managing for the long-term, not the short-term. And it means that managers must take risk into account in their capital allocation decisions. Properly implemented, there is no better cure for short-termism than managing for shareholder value with its long-term orientation."
 
Further:
 
"Critics also contend that shareholder value encourages the exploitation of other stakeholders. Quite the opposite is true. Shareholder value companies recognise that their long-term success depends on a solid relationship with each of their stakeholders. Customers expect high-quality products and services at competitive prices. … Likewise, employees seek competitive remuneration and a satisfying work environment. … Companies risk their viability if any one stakeholder gets too much or too little for an extended period."
 
All of this is fine, I think, and the broad value creation process he is describing actually sounds a lot like "strategic CSR." Over the medium to long term, I agree that shareholder value can only be achieved through the creation of value for all the firm's stakeholders. The problem is that shareholder value is clearly not being implemented in the way the author advocates, which should tell him something about his underlying ideas. Whether it is simply because executive compensation plans have hijacked the focus of firms and distorted their focus on share price (which is what increases the value of stock options) or whether it is simply human nature that prevents the 'pure' implementation of shareholder value; instead of simply restating the idealistic tenets of your theory, why not just change the theory to better account for the imperfections that are clearly being identified? If shareholder value is really supposed to represent value creation for all stakeholders, then why not call it what it is – stakeholder value?
 
Take care
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
What managers misunderstand about shareholder value
By Alfred Rappaport
August 15, 2016
Financial Times
Late Edition – Final
9
 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Strategic CSR - Nuclear

The article in the url below highlights the limits of our knowledge regarding renewable energies:
 
"The United States, and indeed the world, would do well to reconsider the promise and the limitations of its infatuation with renewable energy."
 
In particular, the issue is the reliability of renewables (e.g., solar is less productive in cloudy conditions), combined with our constrained ability to store and transfer that energy (wind energy, in particular, is difficult to transmit, meaning only windy places can generate wind energy). Although our knowledge and capabilities are improving at a rapid rate, our rush to bring renewable energy sources on-line is having repercussions throughout the network as a whole:
 
"Renewable sources are producing temporary power gluts from Australia to California, driving out other energy sources that are still necessary to maintain a stable supply of power."
 
In essence, the rapid expansion of renewable energies is a result of the success of the public policies (and subsidies) that were passed in an effort to reduce our dependence on carbon-based energy. The author suggests that these policies have been too successful. Of particular concern is the effect these constraints are having on the one renewable source that we know well:
 
"But in what may be the most worrisome development in the combat against climate change, renewables are helping to push nuclear power, the main source of zero-carbon electricity in the United States, into bankruptcy."
 
In response, the article calls for approaches that are "more subtle" than simply loading up on more and more renewable energy projects. And it is the public subsidies that are the cause of much of the trouble – a too rapid shift from known technologies to relatively unknown technologies. Although the market for nuclear energy has its own problems, its price per megawatt hour is continually being undercut either by subsidies or the failure to incorporate the full costs of an energy into the price (i.e., a carbon tax). Both forms of support distort the markets for specific energy sources:
 
"Nuclear generators' troubles highlight the unintended consequences of brute force policies to push more and more renewable energy onto the grid. These policies do more than endanger the nuclear industry. They could set back the entire effort against climate change."

California is offered as a case-in-point:
 
"As more and more solar capacity is fed onto the grid, it will displace alternatives. An extra watt from the sun costs nothing. But the sun doesn't shine equally at all times. Around noon, when it is blazing, there will be little need for energy from nuclear reactors, or even from gas or coal. At 7 p.m., when people get home from work and turn on their appliances, the sun will no longer be so hot. Ramping up alternative sources then will be indispensable. The problem is that nuclear reactors, and even gas- and coal-fired generators, can't switch themselves on and off on a dime. So what happens is that around the middle of the day those generators have to pay the grid to take their power. Unsurprisingly, this erodes nukes' profitability. It might even nudge them out of the system altogether."
 
Ultimately, the very real cost of integrating renewable energy sources into our utilities system has yet to be adequately accounted for:
 
"In Germany, where renewables have mostly replaced nuclear power, carbon emissions are rising, even as Germans pay the most expensive electricity rates in Europe. In South Australia, the all-wind strategy is taking its toll. And in California, the costs of renewables are also apparent."
 
At a minimum, it is worth making sure we know what we are getting with renewables before we shut-down the known problems of nuclear energy altogether:
 
"Displacing nuclear energy clearly makes the battle against climate change more difficult. But that is not what is most worrying. What if the world eventually discovers that renewables can't do the job alone?"
 
Once we get rid of the nuclear energy industry, we will not have the time or resources to bring it back.
 
Take care
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/


Embrace of Renewables Has a Hidden Cost
By Eduardo Porter
July 20, 2016
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final
B1
 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Strategic CSR - Perfume

The article in the url below suggests that synthetic alternatives can sometimes be more sustainable than natural products. In particular, the article focuses on the production of perfume. It makes the point that, while consumers often want 'natural' fragrances that are organic and fair trade, synthetic perfumes are significantly better for the planet:
 
"The trend toward a minimalist aesthetic in fragrance can however be more harmful than it appears, particularly when it comes to flowers. The struggle major companies face is how to sustainably produce what is inherently an unsustainable product, especially as consumers demand more and more raw materials."
 
Flowers, in particular, are a challenging product to grow for harvest:
 
"'Flowers are very resource-intensive with low yield,' explains Torsten Kulke, senior vice president of global innovation & regulatory fragrances at Symrise … . Some 500kg (1,102lbs) of a flower, he noted, usually only yields 50 grams (1.1lbs) of essence. 'Why do you want to waste hectares and hectares of productive land?'"
 
In response, companies like Symrise ("one of the 'big eight' global fragrance companies that provide the bulk of the formulas for the fine fragrance market") are working hard to deliver products to a new generation of customers who seek natural, authentic, and sustainable:
 
"In a coastal jungle in northern Madagascar, biologist Fanny Rakotoarivelo places a plastic bubble over a branch of papaya flowers. Inside, air currents run through the flowers, sucking out essential oils. The scented air that remains is funneled into another bag, which Rakotoarivelo places inside a metal briefcase. It will be flown and delivered to the German headquarters of Symrise, the second largest flavors and fragrances company in the world, where scientists will attempt to recreate the scent."
 
Another of the "big eight," IFF has also pivoted to respond to the shifting demands of consumers:
 
"IFF announced its Natural Ethics program in 2013 for its vanilla grown in the Sava region, which includes development of more biosynthetic vanilla. Firmenich works with a local partner in Madagascar that helped 1,300 farming families to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification."
 
While there is always demand for the 'real thing,' the costs associated with getting it are increasingly becoming available only to a select few. The rest of us will need to get used to synthetic, at least when it comes to perfume:
 
"'Rose costs thousands of dollars,' Kulke elaborates. 'A 98% copy you can get for a fraction of the cost.' A papaya flower could not feasibly be harvested for its oil, even in its native Madagascar – the cost, monetary and environmental, would be astronomical. The real thing is, no doubt, more complex, but in this case the copy smells just as sweet."
 
Take care
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
A sweeter choice: synthetic perfumes, while unpopular, are better for the planet 
By Alexandra Pechman
May 23, 2016
The Guardian
 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Strategic CSR - Trust

The article in the url below discusses the role of trust in the modern economy:
 
"One of the underrated achievements of the modern world has been to develop ways to extend the circle of trust by depersonalising it. Trust used to be a very personal thing: you would trust your friends or friends of friends. But when I withdrew €400 from a cash machine, it was not because the bank trusted me but because it could verify that my bank would repay the money. This is a cold corporate miracle."
 
Trust is essential for strangers to interact in an exchange of things of value. For example, if I buy a food item from my local supermarket, I trust it will not give me food poisoning (or worse); when I buy something on Amazon, I trust the company will send it to me; and so on. Of course, I do not base my trust purely on the goodness of strangers. Things like government regulations and NGOs provide seals of quality and there are penalties for transgressions that incentivize producers to not make me sick (or kill me). Repeat interactions are another incentive – if Amazon does not send my purchase, I am less likely to shop there again. Nevertheless, trust is a big part of our everyday experience. This becomes most obvious when it is abused, and it is surprising how infrequently that happens. Given this, the purpose of the article is to discuss whether the role of trust has changed with the emergence of online platforms that increase interactions at arm's length – specifically, the sharing economy:
 
"One example is Airbnb, which lets people stay in the homes of complete strangers, a considerable exercise of trust on both sides. We successfully used it on another stop in our Bavarian holiday. Airbnb makes personal connections but uses online reviews to keep people honest: after our stay, we reviewed our host and he reviewed us."
 
Rather than celebrate the mechanism developed to preserve trust, however, the author says this surface-level analysis of why Airbnb works misunderstands what is really going on:
 
"We're misunderstanding the reason that eBay and Airbnb work. … It's not because of the brilliance of the online reputation system but 'because most people aren't crooks', an idea any Bavarian hotelier would understand."
 
Recent research suggests, however, that, as with the everyday economy, there is a limit to the kindness of strangers that skirts the evaluation systems currently in place:
 
"When Harvard Business School researchers … conducted field experiments on Airbnb, they found that both hosts and guests were discriminating against racial minorities. Other researchers have found evidence of discrimination in places from Craigslist to carpools. New online tools are giving us the ability to treat faraway strangers as though they were neighbours — and we do, in good ways and in bad."
 
In other words, any system involving human behavior (i.e. all systems) at some level will be subject to the biases, emotions, and prejudices that define human nature. While, in the majority of cases we can limit the negative effects (because "most people aren't crooks"), we cannot rule them out completely. The author's conclusion is that the increased commercial interactions we have with individuals (as opposed to companies) as part of the sharing economy is tweaking our economic system, rather than revolutionizing it. It is not a better system, just different:
 
"Trust is sometimes given to people who do not deserve it. And it is often withheld from people who do."
 
Take care
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
Trust in the age of Airbnb
By Tim Harford
August 13/14, 2016
Financial Times
Late Edition – Final
Life & Arts, 15
 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Strategic CSR - Double standards

An important challenge for CSR advocates is to understand why we might employ different values at home and at work:
 
"'I know I should be bothered but I just can't be,' said a colleague recently as they threw some paper towards the bin, 'it's weird really because at home we're fastidious about recycling and all that … but at work I just don't bother.' In one sentence highlighting how hard it can be to encourage employees to be as environmentally friendly in the workplace as they are in their own homes."
 
Why is one behavior at home and in the family unacceptable (e.g., lying or creating waste), yet 'deception' and 'pollution' have long been a part of business practice? The list of companies where such 'unacceptable' behavior is not only sanctioned, but rewarded or incentivized, is long (e.g., Wells Fargo, VW, BP, etc.). The article in the url below presents an interesting take on this issue – unfortunately, as with many things with humans it seems, our behavior is explained by following the money:
 
"… research confirms that employees act worse at work because they don't have a financial interest (most don't even know the energy spend of their organisation), equipment is often shared so there can be a lack of responsibility and employees can't control many of the elements that could make a difference to energy and resources use, such as heating or lighting."
 
As such, solving the problem appears to rest in explicitly demonstrating a self-interest in choosing one behavior over another:
 
"A London council, for example, tackled printing by showing that if every employee used one less sheet of paper a day it saved paper equivalent to the height of a local landmark."
 
In an organization, however, in order for the individual to feel motivated to act in the best interests of the collective, there has to be a sense that everyone is in it together. Because such a culture is difficult to create and often depends on executives leading by example, there is significant variance – among firms, certainly, but even within firms:
 
"… employee environmental behaviours differ between organisation types (private versus public) and even between sites and buildings of the same organisations. Each may have its own constraints in terms of infrastructure, social norms or managerial expectations. Research has found behaviour may even vary during different times of the day or week because of employee's emotional state, job satisfaction or ability to complete work goals."
 
As with any kind of culture, it is hard to align everyone's interests in a way that persuades us there is value in thinking first of the group, rather than the individual.
 
"There is no one solution to encouraging pro-environmental behaviour, but leadership is a key issue and without managers demonstrating their commitment, staff are unlikely to follow suit. [Firms] must also understand the barriers to sustainable behaviour for employees and what might motivate them to make different choices. This can be as simple as making sure that there are enough recycling bins or setting up computer systems effectively so employees can work remotely."
 
Take care
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
'I just can't be bothered': why people are greener at home than in the office
By Victoria Wells.
May 20, 2016
The Guardian
 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Strategic CSR - (Product)Red

I own a t-shirt with the logo "A t-shirt can change the world." It was produced by a partnership between the GAP and (Product)Red (https://red.org/). I was just thinking that I have not heard much from (Product)Red recently but, visiting their website, they claim the initiative (which is a series of products produced in partnership with name-brands, with a portion of the products going to support Red-related projects) has resulted in "$460 million dollars raised" and "90 million lives saved." My t-shirt contributed a very small amount to that total (and the broader project of 'changing the world'), but every time I wear it I question the validity of the claim.
 
While my heart wants to believe such altruism matters, the more I learn about economic theory and human psychology, the more it suggests to me that the market for such products is, at best, extremely limited. This is perhaps supported by the $460 million claim, which is not that much for an organization founded in 2006 (particularly given the high-profile publicity and support it enjoys). Moreover, there is research out there to suggest that self-styled social entrepreneurship companies such as TOMS are particularly inefficient ways to deliver social progress, and may even be harmful (see Strategic CSR – TOMS Shoes).
 
Nevertheless, the optimist in me is always open to be persuaded on this, which brings me to the article in the url below – a report on a new restaurant chain in LA that is using branches in wealthy neighborhoods to subsidize branches serving the same good quality food in poor neighborhoods:
 
"When a new restaurant called Everytable opens on Saturday in the poverty-stricken area of Los Angeles known as South L.A., a grab-and-go Jamaican jerk chicken bowl with coconut rice, beans, plantains and carrots will be the most expensive meal on the menu at $4.50. But this fall, when a second outpost of Everytable opens just two miles away in more affluent downtown Los Angeles, the same Jamaican jerk chicken bowl will cost $8.95. The big price difference represents an unusual experiment to address the persistent issue of limited food choices in poorer neighborhoods around the country. The higher prices at the downtown store are effectively meant to offset smaller profits at the other location, making the lower-priced restaurant more economically viable."
 
The challenge in what the entrepreneurs are attempting is revealed in their recoil at the mention of the word 'subsidy':
 
"Just don't call it a subsidy. 'We don't love the word subsidize because each store is designed to be individually profitable,' said Sam Polk, co-founder and chief executive of Everytable. Rather, he said he hopes customers in affluent neighborhoods will understand they are helping to underwrite sales of the same nutritious meals they are eating in neighborhoods where such food is typically unavailable because no one can afford it."
 
Not sure what the difference is between 'subsidize' and 'underwrite,' but perceptions are important I suppose. And the potential for success seems good here, given that the 'expensive' price is not really that expensive. A good quality lunch for $8.95 is very reasonable. In fact, whenever I see a price much cheaper than that, I suspect to be eating food that is compromised in some way. Since $8.95 doesn't feel expensive, most consumers will either not be aware or not mind that they are 'underwriting' the same meals for half the price elsewhere. Ultimately, however, I cannot escape the feeling that the success of the venture will have nothing to do with the altruistic business model, but whether consumers feel they are getting value for money for their $8.95 (and, for that matter, $4.50). And "value for money" means food that they want as well as food that is 'good' for them. If true, then the only difference between this new restaurant and any other restaurant is that the owner is willing to take lower profits. That is, of course, absolutely fine and completely up to him. Just call it what it is, capitalism, and stop pretending it is something else.
 
Take care
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
Better Food, at a Bargain
By Stephanie Strom
July 28, 2016
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final
B1
 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Strategic CSR - Michael Novak

The article in the url below is the obituary of Michael Novak. I was unaware of his work before reading about his recent death in both The New York Times (below) and Wall Street Journal. Here are a couple of quotes from the obituary summarizing his work:
 
"In The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982) he mounted a defense of capitalism as a morally superior system based on liberty, individual worth and Judeo-Christian principles. It was, he insisted, the only economic system capable of lifting the poor from misery and of encouraging moral growth. Samuel McCracken, in Commentary magazine, called the book 'a stunning achievement' and 'perhaps the first serious attempt to construct a theology of capitalism.'"
 
"Mr. Novak elaborated and extended this argument in several books, notably The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1993). It argued that capitalism's most powerful underlying forces were not self-denial and discipline, as Max Weber had maintained in his classic 1905 work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, but the 'social dimensions of the free economy' and the free play of creativity — both rooted, as Mr. Novak saw it, in Catholic ethics."
 
The idea that capitalism is a vehicle by which we channel our individual ethics and values is central to Strategic CSR, as is the idea that all aspects of operations include economic, moral, ethical, and values-based judgments. Economic exchange via markets encourages engaged stakeholders to prioritize certain actions over others—a form of accountability. Market forces are the means by which we convert scarce and valuable resources into the goods and services we want. Our 'desire' is reflected in our willingness to make meaningful choices among alternatives. It is in this sense that we get the companies we deserve when we (stakeholders) interact with them, just like we get the politicians we deserve when we vote. It is also in this sense that business is "a moral endeavor."
 
Have a good weekend
David
 
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: https://study.sagepub.com/chandler4e
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: https://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
Michael Novak, Catholic Social Philosopher, Dies at 83
By William Grimes
February 20, 2017
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final
B6