The Future of CSR

The Future of CSR

Towards Transformative CSR, or CSR 2.0

Paper by Wayne Visser

It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities – Josiah Charles Stamp


This paper argues that CSR, as a business, governance and ethics system, has failed. This assumes that success or failure is measured in terms of the net impact (positive or negative) of business on society and the environment. The paper contends that a different kind of CSR is needed if we are to reverse the current direction of many of the world’s most pressing social, environmental and ethical trends. The first part of the paper reviews business’s historical progress over the Ages and Stages of CSR: moving through the Ages of Greed, Philanthropy, Marketing and Management, using defensive, charitable, promotional and strategic CSR approaches respectively. The second part of the paper examines the Three Curses of Modern CSR (incremental, peripheral and uneconomic), before exploring what CSR might look like in an emerging Age of Responsibility. This new CSR – called systemic or radical CSR, or CSR 2.0 – is based on five principles (creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity) and forms the basis for a new DNA model of responsible business, built around the four elements of value creation, good governance, societal contribution and environmental integrity.

Taking Stock on CSR

My starting point for any discussion on CSR – by which I mean corporate sustainability and responsibility, but choose whichever label you prefer (corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability, business ethics) – my starting point is to admit that CSR has failed. The logic is simple and compelling. A doctor judges his/her success by whether the patient is getting better (healthier) or worse (sicker). Similarly, we should judge the success of CSR by whether our communities and ecosystems are getting better or worse. And while at the micro level – in terms of specific CSR projects and practices – we can show many improvements, at the macro level almost every indicator of our social, environmental and ethical health is in decline.

I am not alone in my assessment or conclusion. Paul Hawken stated in The Ecology of Commerce (1994) that ‘if every company on the planet were to adopt the best environmental practice of the “leading” companies, the world would still be moving toward sure degradation and collapse.’ Unfortunately, this is still true. Jeffrey Hollender, founder and CEO of Seventh Generation, agrees, saying: ‘I believe that the vast majority of companies fail to be “good” corporate citizens, Seventh Generation included. Most sustainability and corporate responsibility programs are about being less bad rather than good. They are about selective and compartmentalized “programs” rather than holistic and systemic change’ (Hollender & Breen, 2010).

In fact, there are no shortage of critics of CSR. Christian Aid (2004) issued a report called ‘Behind the Mask: The Real Face of CSR’, in which they argued that ‘CSR is a completely inadequate response to the sometimes devastating impact that multinational companies can have in an ever-more globalised world – and it is actually used to mask that impact.’ A more recent example is an article in the Wall Street Journal called ‘The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility’, which claims that ‘the idea that companies have a responsibility to act in the public interest and will profit from doing so is fundamentally flawed’ (Karnani, 2010). This is not the place to deconstruct these polemics. Suffice to say that they raise some of the same concerns I have and which I discuss in this paper …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=””]Page[/button] Kaleidoscope Futures (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=””]Page[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2012) The Future of CSR: Towards Transformative CSR, or CSR 2.0, Kaleidoscope Futures Paper Series, No. 1.

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