Corporate Social Responsibility

Oh no! Another CSR article: The Über-Framework (Part II)

What’s your favorite CSR stock photo cliche? Here are three of ours…

What’s your favorite CSR stock photo cliche? Here are three of ours…

Last time, we discussed our learnings on why CSR is important.  Today, we dive into the fun part of designing and executing an impactful CSR strategy.


To determine the key elements of a CSR strategy, we went where any self-respecting consultant with too many pedigrees would go: Google.  There were over 50 million hits…


So we refined our research strategy and instead looked at what the fancy firms and publications to develop an “über-framework” of CSR strategy (aka the 5 most important considerations cited by the experts).

I’ll be honest, we were a bit surprised by this chart – namely, how little variation there was across the various experts (was everyone in the same room at the Aspen Institute? More importantly, can we score an invite to the next one?)

Our takeaway: CSR isn’t rocket science, but like most things it requires intentionality and thoughtful planning to get it right.  If you’re an organizational leader who’s intimidated by CSR, don’t be.  You can get started now.


A few other thoughts and musings:

1.       “Play to your strengths” is good advice

Even if all the experts mentioned this lever, it’s still worth talking about.  Your organization’s core capabilities should be well-connected to your CSR strategy.  This will increase your impact and could lower the cost to implement.

Examples of well-connected CSR programs: Subaru – Zero-Landfill, Warby Parker – “Buy a pair, give a pair”, Starbucks & Arizona State University — bachelor’s degree partnership


2.       Avoid spreading “propaganda” couched as CSR

In the CSR world, the means are just as important as the ends.  CSR should produce mutual benefits for the community and the company – otherwise it’s just propaganda. (exhibit A: Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” campaign, aka “Dieselgate”)


3.       Collaborate with key stakeholders

You could have the best intentions – but if your CSR strategy isn’t actually built with the people it’s meant to benefit then you’re SOL.


4.       Diversity and inclusion plans are not CSR – they’re table stakes

In our research, we came across multiple articles and corporate reports citing diversity / inclusion as part of CSR strategies.  We couldn’t disagree more.  Diversity and inclusion is a growth strategy.  Companies that can’t attract, retain, and promote a diverse workforce (defined broadly) will be at a competitive disadvantage – end of story.


Innovative approaches to CSR

We also came across a few examples of companies really taking a comprehensive or innovative approach to CSR that we’d like to share.  Here are a few:

  • LEGO: Foundation-funded research on play-based learning, employees trained as “play agents” in communities

  • MOD pizza: industry-leading benefits

  • Orix: employee-governed charitable foundation

  • Unilever: expanding distribution into rural areas through job training

Thanks for reading. Let us know if you like the content so far or have suggestions for future posts and deep dives – send us an email on the contact us page.  Our next post will take a more local and quantitative tack where we dig into data on Washington state school districts… stay tuned!

  1. Boston Consulting Group: Total Societal Impact

  2. Bridgespan (Chris Addy, Maya Chorengel, Mariah Collins, Michael Etzel — published in HBR): “Calculating the Value of Impact Investing

  3. FSG (co-founders Michael Porter and Mark Kramer): Creating Shared Value (FSG site, HBR article)

  4. HBR (V. Kasturi Rangan, Lisa Chase, Sohel Karim): “The Truth about CSR

  5. McKinsey Quarterly (Tracey Keys, Thomas Malnight, Kees van der Graaf): “Making the Most of Corporate Social Responsibility

  6. Stanford Social Innovation Review (Jody Kirchner): “Three Steps to Making CSR Count

Oh no! Another CSR article: An inaugural listicle (Part 1)


We at Kinetic West pride ourselves on distilling complicated, long, intimidating, or even boring research and data into bite size chunks that are interesting and actionable.  We plan to use this blog as an opportunity to share our learning journey, recent work, and interesting developments in the social impact sector.

For an inaugural "learnings" post, we've decided to take a look at Corporate Social Responsibility (or for those in the know, "CSR").  As we've made our transition from public sector teachers to private sector consultants and now to a space in between, we wanted to dig into another topic that also resides at this intersection.  But don't worry… we'll keep this short and sweet.

First off, what is CSR?

CSR has many alphabet soup / euphemistic monikers (CSV - creating shared value; ESG - environmental, social, and governance; social impact; corporate citizenship; sustainable business) that all seek to capture the same concept. To put simply, CSR is when organizations act beyond profit maximization to benefit the communities in which they work.  Examples of CSR programs include employee volunteer days, supply chain waste reduction, non-profit partnerships, to name a few.


The business case -- aka 4 reasons why CSR is important

One could think CSR sounds great for organizations with lots of time and endless resources, but you have customer orders to fulfill, employees who are depending on you, and shareholders who are expecting results yesterday.  CSR is important however, precisely because each of these constituencies care about it too.


1.       Your customers care about CSR


2.       Your employees care about CSR


3.       Your shareholders care about CSR


Let’s also take a step back here for a 4th reason: CSR is the right thing to do for our communities.  If organizations can have the rights of people, they should also have the moral responsibilities of people.


CSR counter-point

Or… if you’d rather not do CSR, if you don’t have the time or resources to create and execute a CSR strategy, then don’t.  But then don’t advocate for lower corporate taxes or engage in complicated tax avoidance.  Pay your fair share and let our government handle societal improvements.

On our next episode, we'll share our learnings on the most effective components of a CSR strategy -- synthesizing leading scholarship and pretty (expensive) graphics so you don't have to.