Leading Responsibly

February 2011

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)—it is a term we hear more and more often. Indeed, there are whole organizations, such as Canadian Business for Social Responsibility, dedicated to changing the way companies do business.

Increasingly, I think CSR is something public- and private-sector employers must embrace. The way companies integrate social, environmental and economic concerns into their corporate philosophy must be done transparently to reach all levels of the organization, from the front-line workers to executives. The public and stakeholders are demanding more information about the social and environmental impacts of the companies they support. CSR is not a new concept—it has been bandied about for nearly two decades—but I think we are now at a point where we can no longer discount its importance.

Take the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as an example. Today, when you look at BP, you wonder how employees are feeling about their jobs. Do they want to admit they work for that company? We often associate environmental disasters with those companies involved in environmental disaster.

Social responsibility is a proactive measure that needs to be built into every company’s philosophy and business plan, including our responsibility for using and conserving natural resources. The changes in policy could be as small as switching a car fleet with more fuel-efficient models, or even encouraging your email recipients to think twice before printing out a message.

Taking a leadership role in CSR
Although widely lauded, in many cases CSR has not been institutionalized to the point where it falls under one department’s purview. So for many organizations that have bought into the idea, the question is: who will take the lead on it?

I believe this is an area where human resources can—and should—take control. As our profession continues to develop and move forward, it seems clear that adding social responsibility to HR’s job description defines a broader, strategic role for us. HR can bring those good ideas to the table and help develop programs that ensure every employee in the organization views environmental consciousness as part of their job description. All employees in an organization should then begin to more fully understand that sustainability, CSR and environmental concerns are changing organizations. We must think in terms of global impact in these areas. Social responsibility is on the horizon as being a critical component of any successful company’s overall strategic plan. Consumers, customers and would-be employees will look at a company’s records to see how socially responsible they are and have been; 20 years ago, that simply was not part of the picture.

So how can HR get involved?
Volunteer for roles on HR committees as well as on boards of non-profit organizations. Promote environmental responsibility in your organization and speak to its strategic place in ensuring corporate success. HR professionals should promote moral and ethical behaviour at work and be seen as part of the solution to creating a better world.