Words: why you should use “sustainability” instead of “CSR”

Alberto Andreu, Chief Reputation Officer & Sustainability Manager with Telefonica, a global Telco MNC, expressed his views about the current Sustainability vs CSR debate in an article for VaultCSR. I know that many people believe that arguing over words is unnecessary and a waste of time, which I can agree with to a certain extent. But, still, using the right terminology is important as we are facing a problem of public perception. I believe that most of the CSR/sustainability leaders and practitioners actually share common values and the issue is not really to agree or disagree on values, strategy or practices but to make sure that a larger audience get the right message about the role that businesses play in building a sustainable future, for themselves, their employees and owners, and for society in general.

Even if it’s mainly a problem of perception, I agree with Alberto Andreu the concept of sustainability describes better the strategy of a company, and its initiatives, that support sustainable development (defined as development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs).

In most companies “CSR initiatives” do include actions that cover the 3 dimensions of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social, but the general public tends to see the third aspect only.

As I said, it’s probably a problem of perception, but for many stakeholders:

Sustainability = future/ CSR = present (or even past) actions.

Sustainability = strategy/ CSR = policy

Sustainability = risk & opportunity management / CSR = compliance

As said in a previous comment, some could argue that sustainability = green but, in my opinion, this perception is less problematic than the other (the one that relates CSR to charity) as companies have demonstrated that there’s a clear business case for sustainability initiatives related to the environment (energy consumption reduction, carbon footprint, water…).

Words matter because they can be an excuse for some companies to do nothing when we all know that they should act now.

About Frederic Page
Learning & Development professional, based in Barcelona, Spain. Blogging about Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility.

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