We Need Basic Facts to Move the CSR Field Forward

By Jeff Lundy, PhD
December 12, 2012
Corporate Citizenship Center

Followers of this blog realize the great importance of CSR work for tackling society’s challenges. But beyond this fundamental understanding there is a lot of ambiguity in the world of corporate responsibility.  In particular, there is a lack of understanding of basic facts. No one quite knows how many companies are tackling social and environmental issues, which issues they are tackling, and where they are tackling them. Take recent survey results as an example.

Corporate and investor relations firm Adam Friedman Associates (AFA) recently conducted a survey on global corporate social responsibility.  The survey focused on “on how [CSR] executives within Fortune 1000 organizations develop, measure and report the results of their CSR initiatives.”  Interestingly, among the 77 executives who responded, they reported initiatives focused on: environmental issues (96%), health issues (68%), educational issues (59%), human rights (55%), labor issues (50%), and safety (11%) as a program focus.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the world of corporate responsibility. In particular, there is a lack of understanding of basic facts.

In theory, this survey shows some foundational research on the work of CSR programs – foundational information that is sorely needed. What’s fascinating about this research is how it compares with BCLC’s own Business for Good Map.

The Business for Good map shows, overwhelmingly, that Education is the top focus area of company projects. Out of 16 categories, 21% were categorized as education (the next highest category is Youth with 12%).  This analysis is based on a database of over 2,500 projects logged in the map.  What’s more, the analysis is based on the outcomes of company projects (i.e. what their projects directly addressed) rather than the perceived focus areas of company executives.  Put another way:  the Business for Good map tracks what companies have done, while surveys often ask executives to self-report focus areas (perceptions that might deviate from real outcomes).

The map tracks what companies have done, while surveys often ask executives to self-report (perceptions that might deviate from real outcomes).

At this point, neither the results of the AFA survey nor the map are complete pictures. With 77 responses, the AFA survey is just a good first foray into this world. Similarly, the Business for Good Map is still working to round out a full representation of projects from BCLC companies across recent years. Still, the predominance of education projects on the map seems hard to put down to a skew in the data (and in fact, it accords with other research showing the predominance of education as a focus area of companies). 

The difference in these results shows just how much research is needed to solidify the corporate responsibility field.  Without a basic understanding of what we are doing, it is hard to see where we are going (and where we should go).  With more and more data going on the Business for Good Map every day, we believe BCLC can be the keeper of record that the field desperately needs.