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Corporate Responsibility: Aggregating Misconceptions
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Corporate Responsibility: Aggregating Misconceptions - Executive Leadership Articles

Corporate Responsibility: Aggregating Misconceptions

Executive Leadership Articles

Corporate Responsibility: Aggregating Misconceptions

One of the benefits of reading the daily news online is the ability to customize our feeds so that the items of most interest or relevance appear first. News aggregators like Google News offer predefined news searches, such as “elections,” “mobile technology,” and your favorite professional sports team. If the topic you’re looking for doesn’t exist, you can create your own category by defining the search terms the aggregator will use in filtering your news.

“Corporate social responsibility” is one of the categories in Google News, created by a user, shared with other readers. Adding this to your personalized stream ostensibly brings you interesting news of CSR every day, but it becomes clear almost immediately that there’s something wrong with the way this topic is filtered. On any given day, the Corporate Social Responsibility section of your news is very likely to have stories about the Green Bay Packers, Green Day, actor James Cagney’s green thumb, and any number of notable people with the surname Green, including basketball player Draymond Green, football player A.J. Green, and British Work and Pensions secretary Damian Green.

Other headlines with keywords such as “sustainability,” “environment,” and “activist” sometimes make the cut, but most days, you’ll be lucky to see a single CSR-related story in this section, even when those CSR-related topics make it through. It’s obvious that the filter is defined poorly by someone with a misguided concept of CSR. Yes, of course the internet is rife with such incomplete understandings of important topics, but this one’s worth contemplating as a subject of emerging interest to us all, because—as language teachers remind us—language shapes cognition. That is, the way we talk about something affects the way we think about it. If we talk about a topic using words related to only one portion of its scope, we stop thinking about it in terms related to the rest of the concept.

Environment-related topics are a big part of that “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profit, but framing our conversations with only a third of that equation skews our understanding away from the others. A CSR program focusing only on profit isn’t a CSR program at all, so a CSR program focusing primarily on the environment isn’t really a CSR program either. By leaving out the “profit” part of the conversation, we forget about our responsibility to the financial health of our companies and stakeholders: not a responsible approach at all. Focusing only on the “people” part of that equation leads to an understanding of CSR as philanthropy, and while charitable giving is a beautiful, wonderful endeavor, it’s a concept almost altogether different from CSR.

When we discuss CSR primarily with buzzwords, we fall into the hole of thinking about it as a marketing or public relations topic. It does make sense for CSR programs to fall under the broad umbrella of public relations; caring for our communities and our environment is literally a public relation. The problem is that we begin to think of it exclusively in that domain, rather than as an expression of what’s in our companies’ missions. CSR is an enormous, nearly unlimited idea. Limiting our conversations about the topic to a small number of nice-sounding terms also puts limits on the concept itself, and this restricts our ability to pursue the greater good, a pursuit that goes right to the heart of corporate social responsibility.


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Corporate Responsibility: Aggregating Misconceptions - Executive Leadership Articles

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