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Intro to CSR // Part I - What is CSR?

This is the first post out of three in my series on "What is CSR and why is it important?"

You can read it everywhere – we are as humans living above our resources. The Earth Overshoot Day calculates every year when humanity has exhausted nature’s resources for the year. The rest of the year, we are using resources that are not in the same scale being reproduced, thus accelerating our ecological deficit and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 2020, even with the forced global slow down thanks to Covid19, we reached this day on August 22th. What can we as humans, and as part of our economic system, do to change this? One component is to involve holistic CSR approaches in companies and organizations. After I provided with my first blogpost “How to CSR” already a short deep dive on which elements to consider for a sustainable CSR strategy, we are now taking a step back to ask some of the most basic, and yet extremely relevant questions: what is CSR and why is it important? Part I: What is CSR? There is unfortunately, as in so many areas of life, not “the one and only” definition of CSR everyone can agree on. Nor do I have the intention to bore you with a full, all-covering historical review. So let’s get an overview idea of what is covered by this broad concept.

As the name Corporate Social Responsibility already suggests, it is directed towards the societal responsibility of companies and organizations. They should, following the concept, check not only on the main, but also, and even furthermore, on the side effects of their business activities, products and production processes. Their business model should be aimed to operate sustainable, not on a pure profit-maximizing strategy. But what does sustainability mean? One of the most cited definitions of sustainability was created 1987 by Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report to the UN Commission: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This goes well together with one of my personal favorites by the German philosopher Hans Jonas, who already in the year 1979 published his book “The Imperative Responsibility” (German: “Das Prinzip Verantwortung), alternating in his sustainability definition Kants’ Categorical Imperative: “Act in a way that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life / future generations and the totality of their life conditions.” The goal of sustainability should be shouldered on the three main pillars Society, Ecology (Nature or Environment) and Economy or, more catchy: People – Planet – Profit.

The following questions are just some examples of points to be considered, deriving from these three main pillars: What is the impact of my business activities on the people? This can include: the communities I produce in, the communities of my target groups / users or in an even wider sense, all people in “my” society.

Who are my stakeholders? How are they involved in the process? How do I interact with my employees, my suppliers and investors? Source: legrand

How does my business impact the environment ? This may lead to further questions like: Which and how many resources am I using? How many logistics is needed, and by which means of transportation? How can I design it more locally / less emissions-intensive?

Read more: Part II - Why is CSR important?

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