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Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility Engagements

Updated on January 2, 2013

Definition of CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility, commonly referred to just by the acronym CSR refers to companies efforts to do business in an ethical way and to have a positive long-term effect on the communities where they operate. Hence, CSR efforts involve efforts like community service and beach clean-ups.

CSR sometime goes b terms including: corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, and responsible business.

Role of Leadership in CSR

Leadership from organizations’ executive management plays a fundamental role in organizations successfully adopting corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices or sustainability agendas by catalyzing and leading such efforts, as well as promoting the CSR agenda and goals to employees. Support from senior management is essential for ensuring that a CSR effort becomes an organizational goal (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2001).

It is the role of an organization’s leaders to communicate the organization’s commitment to CSR, to encourage staff to participate and to elicit support from staff. Senior management needs to plan efforts, lead them, integrate external support from various departments, and empower staff.

An organization’s top managers must promote the organization’s commitment to CSR or sustainability as a whole (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2001), initiating a commitment to CSR and sustainability on various organizational levels.

Fineman (1996) points out that green practices take place when managers cultivate employee commitment to belonging to a socially responsible organization.

Commitment from top management is a starting point for integrating sustainability into business practices, by enabling changes in the organizational structure either by forming committees or creating a new department whose purpose is to integrate CSR or sustainability into practices.

It is important for executive managers to communicate expectations to department leads to get involved, as well as to commit to a timeline and recognize which department has “ownership” these efforts.

Getting all the senior staff involved can be a challenge though, as GRI found in a study (GRI Learning Series, 2008), making it particularly important that the most senior organizational leaders communicate expectations from the beginning.

Sustainability executives must use influence to leverage their effort in order to collect information and performance across the whole organization if they plan on writing a corporate sustainability report (, 2012).

Interestingly, sustainability reporting trends indicate that leadership has been coming from unlikely directions in recent years, with CFOs increasingly getting involved in CSR and sustainability efforts. One in six (13%) respondents in a Ernst & Young and survey say that their organizations’ CFO was "very involved" with sustainability, while 52 percent said the CFO was "somewhat involved” (, 2012). This new trend is being attributed to environmental performance increasingly being seen as material risk factors that may be scrutinized by stockholders.

A beach clean up organized by sailors from the command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) in Okinawa, Japan
A beach clean up organized by sailors from the command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) in Okinawa, Japan | Source

Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility

Below are some examples of CSR efforts that companies can organize.

  • Volunteering - There are many different examples of volunteering that employees can do on behalf of the companies where they work. Some examples include: volunteering at a soup kitchen; organizing a drive to gather toys and cash for Toys for Tots, participating in the Relay for Life, and collecting donations for a local charity.
  • "Green" efforts and events - Many companies have been setting up "green teams" where employees brainstorm "green" ideas that employees can get involved in and actually implement ideas. Examples of "green" projects include efforts to influence employee practices such as recycling paper and reusing cups. "Green" efforts outside of the office include things organizing a local beach clean-up.

Sometimes companies even allow employees to "charge" their volunteering time to the company.


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