Theory U and CSR 2.0

Theory U and CSR 2.0:

Alignment of two conceptual approaches to create profound innovation and transformative change in corporate sustainability and responsibility

Paper by Jeroen A. Van Lawick van Pabst & Wayne Visser


Wayne Visser’s CSR 2.0 Model provides a compelling vision of how business can create transformative improvements in society and the environment. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U describes how profound personal and collective change really happens. This paper explores how these two conceptual approaches can be aligned, thus providing insights into how to create the profound innovation and transformative change needed in the realm of corporate sustainability and responsibility.

Key words

Corporate sustainability and responsibility, systemic CSR, transformative CSR, CSR 2.0, Theory U, U-process, leadership, business, adoption, transformative change.

1. The radical and novel nature of CSR 2.0

CSR 2.0, or radical CSR, provides a compelling vision for transforming the role of business in society. Essentially it advocates a paradigm shift in which the purpose of business is redefined: CSR or sustainability-related activities are no longer simply another means towards a narrow, shareholder-focused commercial end. Rather, CSR becomes a purpose in and of itself. It is an end-state in which business’s interactions with society and the earth are inherently sustainable and responsible. Companies only provide products and services that enhance our wellbeing, without sacrificing the environment or human dignity [1]. CSR 2.0 becomes transformative by shifting the organizational perspective from isolation (us versus them, business versus society) to relationship: operations connected to and serving society and the world. The essence of sustainability is about honoring and advancing such relations, among ourselves, within ourselves and with the earth [2]. These three dimensions of interconnectivity in turn address the triple crises of social, spiritual and ecological disintegration [3].

CSR 2.0 is instructive as it helps us to see how organizations typically move through ‘ages and stages’ from greed-centered, philanthropic, marketing and strategic approaches to a more sustainable way of working and living; a journey that eventually leads to a transformative approach to CSR. Boundaries in our thinking become more fluid or diminish and our thinking becomes more inclusive. For instance, we stop thinking about business and CSR as separate categories; the essence of doing business, of innovation and of sustainability merge. In the process, renewed relationships are formed. CSR 2.0 is also innovative, proposing five principles (creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity) as a coherent base for a new model of sustainable and responsible business, in which governance and leadership are integrated with value creation, societal contribution and environmental integrity [1].

CSR 2.0 reflects the most advanced stage of CSR practice,  shifting from a cost-perspective on CSR to perceiving CSR as an opportunity [4]. However, most corporations still operate from the mindset that embracing CSR/sustainability is a market-savvy way to improve reputation and brand, or at least “that it does no harm to financial performance” [4]. Dominance of short-term thinking, shareholder-value and financiers’ power are still deeply ingrained in the corporate and collective way of thinking and doing.

A few exceptions do exist, such as Unilever CEO Paul Polman, who plans to help 1 billion people improve their health and wellbeing, halve the environmental footprint of its products and source 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably [5]. Another example is the emerging Economy of  …

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Related pages

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=””]Page[/button] Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”″]Link[/button] Social Science Research Network (website)

Cite this article

Van Lawick van Pabst, J.A. & Visser, W. (2012) Theory U and CSR 2.0: Alignment of two conceptual approaches to create profound innovation and transformative change in corporate sustainability and responsibility, SSRN Working Paper Series, 22 February 2012. Published on SSRN at:

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