Sustainability is Overrated

Originally posted to CSR Perspective

Well, perhaps I really mean overemphasized rather than overrated. As I said in my ‘Themes for 2010” post, I have some thoughts on terminology. I hear the term sustainability used as a catch all for corporate social responsibility. I hear it used as a catch all for addressing environmental issues. I don’t think either uses are correct.

The overarching theme is corporate responsibility. (Is it too late to change the title of my blog to CRPerspective?)

Then I see there being a set of principles that can be applied to help us in our corporate responsibility. Those principles are governance, accountability, ethics, transparency, materiality, and, of course, sustainability.

Many of the principles, but in particular sustainability, can be looked at within the context of three interdependent realms; social, economic and environmental.

So, for example, sustainability can apply just as readily to social and economic issues in the community as it can to environment. Consider the impact of sub-prime loans on the economic sustainability of the communities in which they were offered and the impact of tobacco on social sustainability (which includes health).

But the other principles are equally important. In using the term sustainability to describe the whole shebang of corporate responsibility we are underplaying the importance of those principles. We will not effect change without corresponding attention to governance, accountability, ethics, transparency and materiality.

And what of volunteering, community investment, stakeholder engagement, diversity, philanthropy, reporting, risk analysis, incentive programs, business cases and many other things that comprise the daily bread and butter of the job of CR practitioners ? I see these as tools. Tools that help the business deliver against the principles and across the three realms of CR.

I would be interested in your views on my approach.

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