What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable—to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. By practicing corporate social responsibility, also called corporate citizenship, companies can be conscious of the kind of impact they are having on all aspects of society, including economic, social, and environmental.

To engage in CSR means that, in the ordinary course of business, a company is operating in ways that enhance society and the environment, instead of contributing negatively to them.

Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate social responsibility is a broad concept that can take many forms depending on the company and industry. Through CSR programs, philanthropy, and volunteer efforts, businesses can benefit society while boosting their brands.

As important as CSR is for the community, it is equally valuable for a company. CSR activities can help forge a stronger bond between employees and corporations; boost morale; and help both employees and employers feel more connected with the world around them.

Key Takeaways

  • Corporate social responsibility is important to both consumers and companies.
  • Starbucks is a leader in creating corporate social responsibility programs in many aspects of its business. 
  • Corporate responsibility programs are a great way to raise morale in the workplace. 

For a company to be socially responsible, it first needs to be accountable to itself and its shareholders. Often, companies that adopt CSR programs have grown their business to the point where they can give back to society. Thus, CSR is primarily a strategy of large corporations. Also, the more visible and successful a corporation is, the more responsibility it has to set standards of ethical behavior for its peers, competition, and industry.

Small-and-mid-sized businesses also create social responsibility programs, although their initiatives are not often as well-publicized as larger corporations.

Example of Corporate Social Responsibility

Long before its initial public offering (IPO) in 1992, Starbucks was known for its keen sense of corporate social responsibility, and commitment to sustainability and community welfare. According to the company, Starbucks has achieved many of its CSR milestones since it opened its doors. As per its 2018 "Global Social Impact Report," these milestones include "reaching 99% of ethically sourced coffee, creating a global network of farmers, pioneering green building throughout its stores, contributing millions of hours of community service, and creating a groundbreaking college program for its partner/employees."

Starbucks’ goals for 2020 and beyond include hiring 10,000 refugees across 75 countries, reducing the environmental impact of its cups, and engaging its employees in environmental leadership. Today there are many socially responsible companies whose brands are known for their CSR programs, such as Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Everlane, a clothing retailer.

Special Considerations

In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released a set of voluntary standards meant to help companies implement corporate social responsibility. Unlike other ISO standards, ISO 26000 provides guidance rather than requirements because the nature of CSR is more qualitative than quantitative, and its standards cannot be certified.

Instead, ISO 26000 clarifies what social responsibility is and helps organizations translate CSR principles into practical actions. The standard is aimed at all types of organizations, regardless of their activity, size, or location. And, because many key stakeholders from around the world contributed to developing ISO 26000, this standard represents an international consensus.