New book to claim that CSR has failed

A Cambridge University academic will publish a new book in February next year (2011) with the controversial claim that CSR has failed.

The book, The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, is written by Dr Wayne Visser, a man with his finger in many CSR pies. And for a man who makes his living from CSR it is a bold claim to make that it has failed.

However, in a recently published paper, outlining some of the detail of the book, Dr Visser makes some interesting points, which, I suggest, CSR consultants and professionals will have difficulty contradicting.

He argues that notwithstanding the fact that CSR in one form or another has been around since the 1800s, and in its present form since the 1990s, it has had precious little impact on the world’s most pressing problems. Put like that, he has a point, particularly in the case of the environment. The current bun fight in Cancun is unlikely to be resolved happily. It is scientific fact that a global temperature rise of more than three degrees Celsius will be a disaster and our current unwillingness to play nicely to solve it means it is likely to happen anyway.

Yet CSR could make a difference if done properly. Dr Visser points out that more than half of the top 100 ‘economies’ in the world are multinational corporations. If those multinationals told Bolivia, the US and China to get on with a proper environmental agreement with the threat of withdrawal of investment if they didn’t, I expect said countries might find some points in common. The trouble is, at present, the multinationals are a force for money making rather than anything else.

The new dawn, this book suggests, will have to show a ‘more regulated capitalism’. It claims that CSR, for all its desire for a better world, has failed for three reasons:
1)Incremental CSR – gradual improvement won’t work any more. We need radical change – and fast.
2)Peripheral CSR – CSR is always second to short-term financial success. ‘It is hard to find any substantive examples in which the financial markets consistently reward responsible behaviour,’ says Dr Visser
3)Uneconomic CSR – The necessary changes will only be lucrative over the very long term – and financial markets don’t work that way

What is now needed is a new form of CSR – which the book dubs CSR 2.0. This combines five elements:
1)Creativity – Directing business creativity to solving the world’s social and environmental problems
2)Scalability – A ‘shining pilot project’ is pointless if it can’t be scaled for mass use
3)Responsiveness – greater transparency, through reporting mechanisms and through sharing intellectual resources (eg/technology patents)
4)Glocality – Understanding local contexts and applying local solutions without forsaking global principles
5)Circularity – Closed loop production – such as factories that produce drinking water as waste or materials that can feed into industry as high quality raw materials for new products

The end result is a new meaning for CSR – Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility. I like the sound of it. Let’s do it.

Photo credit: gnuckx