12 Strategies for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in 2022

Most companies have long practiced some form of corporate social and environmental responsibility with the broad goal, simply, of contributing to the well-being of the communities and society they affect and on which they depend. But there is increasing pressure to dress up CSR as a business discipline and demand that every initiative deliver business results. That is asking too much of CSR and distracts from what must be its main goal: to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and values. If in doing so CSR activities mitigate risks, enhance reputation, and contribute to business results, that is all to the good. But for many CSR programs, those outcomes should be a spillover, not their reason for being. This article explains why firms must refocus their CSR activities on this fundamental goal and provides a systematic process for bringing coherence and discipline to CSR strategies.

To understand how companies devise and execute CSR, over the past decade we conducted in-depth interviews with scores of managers, directors, and CEOs who are directly or indirectly responsible for their firms’ CSR strategies, and we have developed more than a dozen case studies on the topic. Most recently we surveyed 142 managers who attended Harvard Business School’s CSR executive education program during the past four years. Our findings were remarkably consistent.

We surveyed managers who attended Harvard Business School’s CSR executive education program during the past four years, asking them about the range, structure, and oversight of their firms’ CSR activities. The fact of their attendance reflects their companies’ interest in CSR, so our sample is probably biased in favor of companies with relatively advanced CSR practices. Still, 60% of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their firms’ CSR activities and direction and wanted to improve them. Other key findings are below.

Despite the widely accepted ideal of pursuing “shared value”—creating economic value in ways that also create value for society—our research suggests that this is not the norm. Rather, most companies practice a multifaceted version of CSR that runs the gamut from pure philanthropy to environmental sustainability to the active pursuit of shared value. Moreover, well-managed companies seem less interested in totally integrating CSR with their business strategies and goals than in devising a cogent CSR program aligned with the company’s purpose and values.

But although many companies embrace this broad vision of CSR, they are hampered by poor coordination and a lack of logic connecting their various programs. Although numerous surveys have touted the increased involvement of CEOs in CSR, we have found that CSR programs are often initiated and run in an uncoordinated way by a variety of internal managers, frequently without the active engagement of the CEO.

To maximize their positive impact on the social and environmental systems in which they operate, companies must develop coherent CSR strategies. This should be an essential part of the job of every CEO and board. Aligning CSR programs must begin with an inventory and audit of existing initiatives. Our research and work with corporations across the geographic and business spectrum show that companies’ CSR activities are typically divided among three theaters of practice. Assigning CSR activities accordingly is a crucial first step.

A corporate social responsibility strategy (CSR) is the total plan a business has to build, execute and optimize its social responsibilities initiatives.

Strategic Planning and Corporate Social Responsibility: Creating a CSR Strategy (Part 1)

What is CSR strategy?

The exact nature of CSR greatly depends on the company and the industry in which it operates, but most CSR strategies involve philanthropy, volunteer work and other similar activities meant to better society.

12 tips for an impactful CSR strategy

Consider these tips when creating and implementing a CSR strategy:

1. Analyze what your organization is already doing regarding CSR

Your company may already have strategies in place to comply with environmental standards, contribute to philanthropic causes or other corporate social responsibility efforts. Your CSR strategies should include these existing initiatives; it makes future CSR efforts look more organic and it is less expensive than taking a whole new approach.

2. Make sure it correlates with the overall business strategy

Any CSR-related action needs to be in line with an organizations overall business practices and core objectives. This can make the endeavor more credible to potential customers and the general public. Typically, following this strategy costs less to implement than a course of action that is unrelated to the companys other practices.

3. Make sure you have the full support of top-level management

Before implementing a CSR strategy, its best that you earn the support of every senior leader within the organization, including the CEO and board of directors. Showing consensus and unity not only benefits the companys image but also makes it more likely that employees will be fully on board with the CSR strategy.

4. Donate funds to causes that relate to your business

When choosing what causes to sponsor, it is usually best that you select those that connect to your organizations activities in some way. For example, if your company manufactures clothing, it might partner with a foundation or establish its own to donate a portion of products to those in need.

5. Find reliable outside partners

Some CSR initiatives are more efficiently done with the help of partners. Educational or environmental institutions already specialize in undertaking similar projects.

6. Involve your suppliers

Make sure all your suppliers follow the same general strategies when it comes to limiting their impact on the environment and helping society. This can contribute to you getting fair pricing as CSR objectives align, and help avoid any indirect consequences that may occur when working with a supplier thats not socially conscious.

7. Make proper communication a priority

The only way to maximize the benefits a well-constructed CSR strategy brings to the organization is to make sure it is properly communicated through all relevant channels so it reaches its target audiences.

8. Create it in a way that attracts potential employees

Companies can attract quality talent through CSR by supporting their education. Investing in various scholarships in domains such as science, technology, math, engineering and sports can uplift and educate talented young people that can inspire loyalty to the company that gave them the chance at an education.

9. Make an active commitment to protect the environment

Environmental issues should play a major part in your CSR strategy despite the industry your business operates in. Every person and organization on this planet has a carbon footprint and committing to reducing it is an integral part of modern CSR.

10. Research your competitors CSR strategies

When deciding on how to best implement a CSR strategy, examining similar initiatives enacted by competing companies is a good way to discover widely covered issues within a particular sector. This way you can replicate their success and avoid their mistakes.

11. Always look for ways to keep it current

A companys approach to CSR is usually more efficient when it correlates with societys most urgent and pressing issues. Keeping up to date with current events and adjusting the CSR strategy as new developments unfold can ensure its long-term effectiveness.

12. Make sure the business keeps all CSR-related promises

When implementing a CSR strategy, it is crucial that you set realistic objectives. Promising certain actions and not being able to fulfill them is likely to diminish the impact that your CSR strategy has on the general public.

The benefits of CSR strategy

Having a CSR strategy can be beneficial for both your company and society as a whole. Here are just a few of the benefits:


What is an example of strategic CSR?

Types of Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Environmental Responsibility. Environmental responsibility refers to the belief that organizations should behave in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. …
  • Ethical Responsibility. …
  • Philanthropic Responsibility. …
  • Economic Responsibility.

Why have a CSR strategy?

There are seven key tactics for strategic planning that will help improve the outcomes of your business’s CSR activities.
  1. Link to company values. …
  2. Get insights from your various stakeholders. …
  3. Borrow great strategy. …
  4. Establish internal buy-in. …
  5. Build external partnerships. …
  6. Be clear and transparent. …
  7. Learn, respond, and improve.

How do you create a CSR strategy?

An excellent example of CSR on the frontline is big pharma pioneer Johnson & Johnson. They have focused on reducing their impact on the planet for three decades. Their initiatives range from leveraging the power of the wind to providing safe water to communities around the world.

What are the five 5 components of a company’s CSR strategy?

CSR can improve customers’ perception of your brand.

However, businesses that take social responsibility seriously can win consumers, as well as develop a platform to market and earn their audience’s attention. Simply put, social responsibility can help people see your company as a positive force in society.

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