Find More Great ProductsExplore the Gift Shop!

A Deeper Dive Into Corporate Social Responsibility

by S4G Staff | August 2nd, 2022


A Deeper Dive Into Corporate Social Responsibility


CSR, simply put, is a company’s way to help people and the environment.


Companies that truly practice corporate social responsibility should be proud of themselves. They help people in need and take responsibility for their impact on the environment. Lego and Adidas Group are two examples of companies that do this well.

Over the years, the meaning of CSR has broadened, stretched by the forces and interests of hundreds of thousands of companies, applying their own unique recipes and prescriptions for the use of the term. As was the case in Japan, many companies have thought of CSR as primarily an internal process for many years. Still, corporate social responsibility can and should extend outside the company.


Improving employees’ lives is important, and companies have a chance to standardize and iterate on internal CSR for significant gains, but the impact of external CSR, often implemented by working with municipalities and NPOs, is vitally important. The big wicked problems of hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation can’t be improved without the participation and contributions of companies.


One of the best synergies of these aims is volunteer programs within companies that encourage and incentivize employees to get out into the community and volunteer.


Regardless of the method, companies supporting the community through donations, increasing hiring, and being active and financially involved both locally and nationally in supporting programs and initiatives with positive outcomes are all part of CSR

Starting Points

  • – CSR is a broad term that describes different socially responsible corporate actions.
  • – CSR can involve internal or external activities.
  • – CSR helps companies create a better workplace, improve communities, and make the world a better place.
  • – Small and medium-sized businesses also create social responsibility initiatives that are less visible than those created by larger companies, but their impact is equally important.



It turns out this term, often maligned as a mere greenwashing attempt, has many other names, and here are a few:

  • conscious capitalism
  • corporate conscience
  • corporate citizenship
  • corporate sustainability
  • responsible business
  • sustainable business



A debate in 1932, published by the Harvard Law Review between A. A. Berle and Merrick Dodd, set the framework for considering the greater role of the public corporation in society. Berle suggested in this debate that the corporation was responsible to its shareholders exclusively, but E. Merrick Dodd considered corporations should be responsible to society and its shareholders. As an assurance, Berle felt that if CSR was to work, there should be enforceable laws to govern interactions with “labor, customers, and the public equal to or ahead of shareholders” Wikipedia.


The origin of the term and the framework for corporate social responsibility dates all the way back to the 1930s.


As this review of the debate from Oxford University concluded, “CSR can be consistent with maximizing shareholder wealth as well as achieving broader societal goals,” and this is the focus of CSR to this day.


Lurking in the shadows, the arch-nemesis of social responsibility (scores of libertarians will adamantly disagree) is nowhere more embodied than in Milton Friedman, who believed in nothing but the bottom line of profit, social impact, and environmental impacts be damned. Friedman and his ilk are partially responsible for the erosion of the efficacy of CSR and its besmirching as an essential function for corporate citizens.  But in his limited view, Friedman failed to see that this framework furthers business objectives when integrated with a company’s unique business model, but more on that later.


Other early influential contributors to the idea of CSR and its transformative impact include Archie Carroll and also Howard Bowen, who,  in 1953, wrote his book, “Social Responsibilities of the Businessman.” Their contributions influenced someone on Wikipedia to include a quote attributed to a Business Dictionary defining CSR as:

“a company’s sense of responsibility towards the community and environment (both ecological and social) in which it operates. Companies express this citizenship (1) through their waste and pollution reduction processes, (2) by contributing educational and social programs, and (3) by earning adequate returns on the employed resources.”

(EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG)Though the citation is dubious, I think it’s a pretty good definition.

Nonprofits and Online Shopping: A Partnership to Benefit All

Help make shopping online an ethical activity. Your leadership is needed. Join the network!

Join as a business or nonprofit member and empower end consumers by giving them an easy way to effect positive change.




Business leaders should know four essential parts of CSR, and Archie Carroll’s CSR Pyramid has illustrated that: Environmental (originally, Legal), Ethical, Philanthropic, and Economic. Imagine that businesses are to consider not just the bottom line of profit, but the “Triple Bottom Line” of profit, people, and the planet.

Corporate Social Responsibility
Carroll's CSR Pyramid


At the beginning of the article, I said: “companies that truly practice corporate social responsibility.” CSR at its best embodies the “Truly Responsible Enterprise” or TRE.


According to Toth Gergely in the book by the same name, if there is one metric CSR is working to achieve, it is an end to the unsustainable business. Though most companies might think of CSR as a buffet platter of options from which they can dabble and snack from numerous options and applications, the fact remains that CSR works toward a vision of sustainability and environmental responsibility within the finite conditions on the planet earth. It is a company’s ethical responsibility to play its part in ensuring a sustainable future.



  • Environmental responsibility: generally making sure your packaging is reusable, your logistics are clean and energy-efficient, the content of your products is environmentally friendly in terms of pollution and waste, including greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Ethical responsibility: generally being a well-mannered company that strives to treat its stakeholders with the utmost respect. This includes striving for fair pay and improving benefit packages for employees who work hard for the business.
  • Philanthropic responsibility: being active in the communities where they operate, donating a percentage of profits to causes they believe in and that align in some way.
  • Economic responsibility: Some of the most financially beneficial CSR initiatives are also the easiest to implement. For example, many companies choose affordable, plastic packaging for their products. However, this isn’t always the best option from an environmental perspective – after all, plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade. By investing in expensive recycled-paper containers instead, companies drastically reduce their carbon footprint while increasing the value proposition to consumers!

Are Companies Still Not Convinced?

Companies will inevitably fail to consider the public good. They will ignore the long-term implications of sub-optimal business practices on the CSR scale in favor of profitability or even solvency. So early on, the need for corporate enticements was necessary to get companies to play ball on the field of social responsibility programs.


To this end, CSR and ESG have a lot to offer companies in return for their participation, increased trust and likeability from the buying public, a stronger and more likable brand, and new investment opportunities. Significant financial impact of CSR is evident in the annual reports of companies like Adidas or Rolex, who are leaders in this field.


For an example of what sustainable business practices can do for a company’s reputation and environmental performance, look at Lego’s sustainability report, where they can be proud to announce that their plastics are now all plant-based.


CSR is also a way to deepen a company’s roots and bring stakeholders together around humans’ common values. Its implementation can enrich the workplace and its business operations with purpose. Thanks to this latter point, companies implementing CSR and ESG comprehensively see better operational performance and even higher stock performance.



Without getting too technical, responsible companies implementing a CSR program ought to start with a cost-benefit analysis to ensure their program will make a positive impact. Taking a resource-based review (RBV) “According to Barney (1990), “formulation of the RBV, sustainable competitive advantage requires that resources be valuable (V), rare (R), inimitable (I), and non-substitutable (S).” In other words, to make CSR highly productive, it should build on the company’s unique assets. This is a kind of blue oceans theory applied to the design of a CSR program, that the program needs to be unique to provide a real return for the company.

Types of Implementation that may fit a company’s mission include:

  • making safe, high-quality products.
  • providing secure employment and healthy employee engagement.
  • showing leadership in ethical labor practices.
  • making a positive contribution to social issues.
  • donating money to nonprofit organizations and communities around the world (philanthropic responsibility).
  • giving away money to local charities.
  • supporting community projects
  • supporting government officials that align with CSR.
  • sponsoring events.
  • contributing to public causes.
  • helping people in need.
  • respecting the laws that protect people and the planet.
  • protecting the environment.

Types of failures to implement include:

  • harming people.
  • damaging the environment.
  • breaking laws that protect people and the planet.
  • Disregarding the rights of others.
  • Being selfish in values and vision.
  • Not respecting the rights of others.

Many systems are available to help with guidelines and frameworks, such as the Global Reporting Initiative or ISO26000. The governing principles set forth by ISO26000 include accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interest, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms of behavior, and respect for human life. You can purchase ISO26000 at their store, but be advised that this is not a certification but guidance that aligns with the UN’s SDGs.


In Summary

The idea of corporate social responsibility has been around for almost 100 years. It stands center stage as a guide to business ethics to help companies navigate the right responsibility of business in society, including both human responsibility and environmental sustainability. 

The bottom line alignment to business objectives is possible and profitable when done right. One easy way to get started is to partner with us here at Support4Good. We have a collection of nonprofits we work with that you can access through our programs. Learn more here.

Join the Club

Get the newsletter and learn what Support4Good can do for you!