Sustainability Corner with
“The emphasis placed by more and more companies on corporate social responsibility, symbolizes the recognition that prosperity is best achieved in an inclusive society.”
———–Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is our ride to a world where prosperity is shared, in which societies are inclusive, and the environment is kept safe and protected, as proclaimed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the road to that future has been riddled with obstacles. Firstly, the sheer number of commitments guises various compromises and the politics of indicator setting that will undermine the discursive and institutional strength of the agreement (Langford, 2016). Secondly, countries have created the proverbial “Christmas tree”—an agenda that is more decorative than communicative and operational.
The 2030 Agenda represents a development narrative with the overriding motto “Leaving no one behind” (Innovation Campus Bonn, ICB, 2019). However, the boldest aspect of the new agenda is its universalist conception of sustainable development. On the first inspection, the proclamation is breathtaking in its spectrum and ambition. Comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets, they possibly are the most inclusive universal agenda endorsed since the UN Charter in 1945. Its thematic set ranges from poverty, health, education, inequality, energy, infrastructure, climate change, marine resources, peace, security, and good governance (Langford, 2016).
CSR can become an effective vehicle for addressing what is seen as the fundamental problem with contemporary globalization, a global governance system without global government. Collectively, a further step can be taken by civil society, governments, and businesses to tie the SDGs and CSR to the social, political, and environmental challenges of globalization (Blowfield and Murray, 2019).
The road less traveled
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are there to recalibrate the direction of the world economy, from one of widening inequalities and social exclusion and significant environmental threats to a trajectory of sustainable development. CSR emphasizes the importance of managing the relationships that are central to the future of the business. The Sustainable Development Goals underscore the importance of understanding and acting upon the interlinkages between policy areas in the goals. The SDGs underline the value of partnerships for implementation. The two are connected: they help define the world and economy that we want in the future (Nilson et al., 2018).
CSR will continue to unfold in value and involvement as societies reexamine the balance between societal needs and economic progress. The basis of much of the CSR discourse (and captured by the term corporate social responsibility) is the assumption that firms should pursue other than profit maximization (Werther and Chandler, 2011). It is well understood that the scope of both the SDGs and CSR is a collage of issues. Which issues are most relevant today or tomorrow evolve with societies changing (Werther and Chandler, 2011). This ongoing redefinition and evolution of societal expectations cause the SDGs and CSR responses also to develop. Both the SDGs and CSR encounter different societal governance systems, reflecting various institutions and regulations concerning the respective roles of business, government, and civil society actors.
In essence, Agenda 2030 seeks to strengthen universal responsibility and more considerable equality. It declares that eradicating poverty in all its forms and scale, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an essential requirement for sustainable development (UN SDG Report, 2019). Our problems are not fundamentally the crushing economic burden of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The issues are more organizational, motivational, and the capacity to cooperate.
Ultimately, in an increasingly connected world, the transformative potential of the 2030 Agenda lies in its universality, where essential anchorage for change in a given context may be found in a different place or at another spatial scale. Although not immediately apparent, CSR has a similar revolutionary probability and can be seen as a future game-changer. In a sense, CSR can guide businesses on what the market environment could look like in the foreseeable future. CSR is, therefore, about sustainable wealth creation (Werther and Chandler, 2011). In recent years, companies have started to create and publish reports on CSR due to factors such as regulations and capital markets. Some exchanges also have more stringent environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure requirements for listed companies. ESG performance, a vital indicator of the CSR and the Sustainable Development Goals of listed companies, is increasingly sought after by investors and asset managers and integrated into listed companies’ research and decision-making frameworks.
Drive CSR to accelerate the SDGs
CSR is clearly about a particular set of business practices and strategies that deal with social issues. Still, for many people, it is also about something more than that – namely, a philosophy or set of values that underpin these practices.
CSR practices as a vehicle for enhancing the SDGs can also be positively related to organizations pursuing legitimacy or moral standing from stakeholders who exert pressure on implementing CSR commitments. The SDGs provide a standard set of goals around which multiple sets of stakeholders, including transnational corporations, can rally and build partnerships. This can help identify common interests, where it is necessary to jointly tackle sustainable development issues beyond the control of an individual transnational company. Indeed, such partnerships are promoted as one of the significant business lever involvement into the SDGs.
In realizing CSR’s suitability to serve as a viable vehicle for the SDGs, cognizance has to be taken of the impacts it creates. CSR focuses on sustainable development and gaining institutional status within businesses because of its linkage with compliance to the law and ethical practices. The SDGs fully acknowledge the integrated and systemic nature of sustainable development issues. They may consequently provide a framework against which transnational companies can start to map their CSR activities to identify leverage points for enhancing positive impacts and mitigating negative ones.
The 2030 Agenda is less than a decade away. As a society, we must ask ourselves if our actions presently are planting the good bedrock to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda has provided a framework for shared prosperity in a sustainable world—a world where all people can live productive, vibrant, and peaceful lives on a healthy planet (UN SDG Report, 2019).
Lastly, it must be cognizant that the SDGs are undertaken because of their profound importance for human wellbeing. The final analysis indicates that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to deal with the complexities of CSR and the SDGs. But all roads lead to that CSR is a perfect vehicle for strengthening and enhancing the SDGs.
Schönherr, N. et al, (2017; vol.24, no. 3), Exploring the interface of CSR and the Sustainable Development Goals, Transnational Corporations
Werther, William B; and Chandler David (2011), Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders in a Global Environment. 2nd Edition., SAGE Publications, Inc, California.
United Nations (UN) (2019), The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019, New York. Available from: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2019/ [Accessed 28 May 2021].
Nilsson, Måns & Chisholm, Elinor & Griggs, David & Howden-Chapman. et al. (2018), Mapping interactions between the sustainable development goals: lessons learned and ways forward. Sustainability Science. 13. 1-15. 10.1007/s11625-018-0604-z. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326372390_Mapping_interactions_between_the_sustainable_development_goals_lessons_learned_and_ways_forward [Accessed 27 May 2021].
Langford, Malcolm (2016), Lost in Transformation? The Politics of the Sustainable Development Goals (April 12, 2016). Ethics and International Affairs, Vol. 30, No. 2, p. 167-176.; PluriCourts Research Paper No. 16-03. Available from: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2723340 [Accessed 27 May 2021].
Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB) (2019), Sustainability and Global Change. Bonn.
Blowfield, Michael. & Murray, Alan (2019), Corporate Social Responsibility, Fourth Edition. Oxford Univerisity Press, New York.