The CSR commitment: from the desire to “do well” to that of “doing well”

Engagement RSE

“Engaging” in CSR is no small feat. You can commit under duress (regulatory, shareholder, reputational, commercial, etc.) or by personal conviction. Whatever its motivation, form or scale, CSR is everywhere. But are all commitments equal ?

Recently, La Poste announced its commitment to the fight against undernutrition, Carrefour and Système U communicated on their commitment to combat violence against women, LVMH announced its commitment to reducing energy consumption. All these companies have a notorious CSR approach. Their commitments are indisputable and numerous. However, it becomes difficult to establish a link between this commitment and their primary mission. By multiplying the actions and without a guideline, they disturb the message. This is what the study carried out in 2022 by Harris Interactive and Impact France seems to indicate. This revealed that companies’ CSR commitment was important or a priority for 77% of respondents, but only 23% felt that companies demonstrated a deep commitment. So there is a gap between the means mobilized and the perception of the promise ?

Between accelerating normative pressure, growing market demands and constantly challenged business models, companies are keen to be proactive. The CSR commitment would stand out as a means of offering a modern image of the company, civic and exemplary. “Tapping into the CSR vein” for more material has become common practice. This is a temptation to which many companies have yielded, committing themselves in all directions, with more or less success. But this commitment now has its downside: indifference and even discredit.

Looking closely at the CSR policies of companies, we see that they are often on all fronts, occupying the ground, even if the coherence between the commitments and the core mission of the company is vague: the important thing is to leave no critical subject aside.

Yet in adopting the strategy of omnipresence before that of meaning, they face several challenges :

The transformative dimension

The greater the number of CSR initiatives, the weaker their ability to transform society. However, the solutions that are effective, replicable and industrializable on a large scale are those that will allow the societal transition to take root and the company to distinguish itself.

A committed company is bound by a moral contract with its stakeholders.

Effective steering

Engaging on several fronts requires resources (finances, skills, partnerships, etc.) and results. However, the ability of a company to mobilize resources to manage projects is constrained. Moreover, the chance of a project succeeding decreases with the volume of initiatives. Engagement must also be driven by effectiveness.

The readability of the process

The more the company invests in various areas, the more the brand narrative is diluted with a risk of not being seen, understood or valued. However, a CSR commitment is an opportunity to strengthen the reputation of the company.

CSR commitment is not “being everywhere”, it is being where “we should be”.

To be impactful, a company’s commitment must be the result of a dialogue with stakeholders and strengthen business competitiveness. This frequent failure harms the reputation of CSR and companies, which despite the means mobilized, do not always gain in attractiveness.

So how do you recognize an engaged company ?

It is a company that is bound by a moral contract with its stakeholders and that respects it. It puts itself under the obligation to render accounts, like what it does in financial matters. Concretely, it puts itself “in pledge”.

To know what and how to engage, here are some tips: build a CSR strategy and then refer to it to choose the topics of engagement; limit their number to focus their efforts on one or two strategic areas and maximize their chances of success; setting commitments with S.M.A.R.T. goals[1] and communicate on the results; translate these commitments into services and products and integrate them into the business model; mobilize the entire company and decision-making centers by ensuring that CSR is embodied by each business; allocate consistent means (skills, investments) to achieve them; align corporate governance with these commitments; ensure consistency between words and deeds and assume its successes and difficulties with full transparency; make a long-term commitment.

Committing to CSR means deciding to play a role in the construction of a social project. It means making choices that can be structuring for the company (and its ecosystem) and accepting the consistency that this implies. It is to agree the saying and the doing, to assume that this will require compromises and perhaps renunciations. It also means seeing new opportunities and integrating CSR risks to improve the resilience of the company. Finally, it means accepting to navigate on sight and constantly adapting to an ever-changing environment.

In conclusion, commitment is an eminently strategic subject and not a simple declaration of intent. It is a marker that reveals the true identity of the company and the meaning of its mission. This is why engaging in CSR is such a challenge. This requires method, courage and consistency. We don’t get involved either for fun or by chance. We get involved because it is essential to the sustainability of the company. It is for this reason that the choice of commitment must also be the result of a process of reflection with the board of directors and the general management.

We don’t get involved either for fun or by chance. We get involved because it is essential to the sustainability of the company.

Our society needs commitments that provide useful responses to the challenges of societal transition. The ability of the company to grasp this requirement now conditions not only its performance and credibility, but also the attractiveness of talent, the involvement of its employees and the interest of the market. It’s time to do good !

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Sophie Chambon

Sophie Chambon

With Sophie's eye, I take a critical and constructive look at a topical subject where committed and powerful CSR can make a difference.

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