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From CSR to CR to Sustainability to CR&S? Maybe

Back in 2002 in the pages of Ethical Corporation magazine, we ran a campaign, also online, to ask companies to shift from talking about Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Responsibility.

Why? Because we, like many others, felt a more holistic term was needed that included environmental impacts beyond just basic compliance.

Over time, (not claiming credit) we saw some companies switch from CSR to CR.

Then as climate change fever took hold in the mid noughties, and our understanding of science and resource constraints improved, we saw more and more companies talk about sustainability.

But in certain countries, notably the U.S. sustainability was all about green. Social issues, including human rights, didn’t figure so much in some companies public definitions.

That’s changed quite a bit. The ‘Shared Value’ notion, flaky though it has been, has helped put social issues back on the agenda.

More importantly and substantively, the Ruggie framework on business and human rights, various incidents and a few minor regulatory changes helped companies understand what “Licence to Operate” means.

Now at least two large companies are talking about “CR&S” over CSR, CR, sustainability etc.

That stands for “Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability”.

The companies are Coca-Cola Enterprises and Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain. No doubt there are others.

This newer iteration is another attempt to be holistic about tackling impacts.

It also helps because in many languages “sustainability” doesn’t translate easily, so I am told.

I’ve argued that terminology matters little, that we know it when we see it, and if it’s genuine and properly planned, you get credit no matter what you call it.

But I may have been wrong about that. Certainly it matters to large companies, who need to convey complexity in terms people can remember internally.

So whether CR&S catches on remains to be seen. Despite the acronym proliferation we are now seeing, which can’t be helping in some ways, I can understand why Coca-Cola Enterprises and Sainsbury’s are going down this newer road.

I’m just pleased we had the foresight in 2001 to call our magazine Ethical Corporation rather than CSR magazine.

When it come down to it, ethics is always going to be in the lexicon, CSR may have a much more limited shelf life.

(This Calvin & Hobbes cartoon , also above, on the subject of ethics may amuse some of you)