Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming increasingly important in business practice. After all, setting a good example as an organization and acting in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner enhances its reputation - whether with customers, partners, the general public or its own employees. One thing is certain: companies that act not only economically, but also from a social and ecological perspective, meet with significantly more support in all areas.

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Corporate Social Responsibility can be difficult to grasp 

The term Corporate Social Responsibility can be difficult to grasp. Many entrepreneurs hardly know what is behind it, misuse the actually praiseworthy approach for pure PR purposes, or they are overwhelmed with the implementation.

Various management systems can provide assistance here, giving you fixed guidelines and structures for implementing and improving your measures. Especially when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, you can choose from a variety of approaches to address and elaborate your key areas of corporate responsibility.

 

What is Corporate Social Responsibility? A definition

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR for short, is a term used internationally, but it is defined rather vaguely. It is often equated with "corporate responsibility" and "corporate ethics". The buzzwords "environmental awareness" and "sustainability" also crop up repeatedly in this context, but only cover different sub-areas.

Put simply, the definition of corporate social responsibility encompasses your company's moral and ethical commitment in terms of how it treats employees, the environment, the competition, the economy and other important areas. A positively practiced CSR also offers you many economic advantages.

Corporate social responsibility is often understood as a voluntary commitment to certain rules that lie outside laws and standards. In doing so, you promise to act responsibly and morally toward your employees, your partners and shareholders, and the environment.

"CSR refers to the three pillars of sustainability and thus encompasses all environmental, economic and social aspects of corporate activity."

The basic references are primarily the ILO Declaration of Principles, the OECD Principles and the principles of the UN Global Compact. Corporate Social Responsibility thus encompasses the social responsibility of companies in business and human rights. In addition to these fixed goals, however, the commitment to CSR often also serves PR purposes. After all, if it becomes known that your organization is voluntarily committing itself to a higher purpose, this can improve your public image enormously.

 

The three areas of Corporate Social Responsibility

Since the term Corporate Social Responsibility is not defined in detail, there are different approaches to structure the concept behind it: The area of responsibility model developed by the German sociologist Prof. Dr. Stefanie Hiß is relatively well known. She divides corporate social responsibility into three areas, each of which is named according to the nature of its public impact:

 

The internal area of responsibility

This is where all internal strategies and processes are grouped together that are not made public, but which set the ethical direction of your organization. This includes all internal processes that affect your corporate strategy per se.

The internal area of responsibility is therefore mostly a matter for the management and has a decisive influence on important decisions, for example on fair and realistic growth planning in order to achieve healthy profitability, or on cooperation with partners. This is where the company's own responsibility is defined, for example to avoid possible cartel and monopoly positions.

 

The middle area of responsibility

The middle area of responsibility includes all areas that are publicly recognizable and have a direct effect on the environment, people and society, but are still part of the normal work process.

This includes all actions whose effects are more or less measurable. This includes, for example, CO2 emissions and pollution, but also the working conditions of your employees. It also includes responsible cooperation with companies that also act in an ethical manner.

The middle area of responsibility is often the most difficult to coordinate, but it is continuously gaining in importance because this is where the most damage can occur. This not only affects the reputation of your company, the environment or society, but also the stakeholders (interested parties). These include all those who have a vested interest in processes, working conditions and, in most cases, the success of your company, such as employees, trade unions, equity and debt investors, customers, suppliers, local residents or the press.

The external area of responsibility

As part of their corporate social responsibility, many organizations not only focus on internal processes, but also assume social responsibility outside their own operations. This area is often equated with the term "corporate citizenship". This includes charitable activities (usually social commitment in the form of donations, sponsoring or social activities), for which the daily work routine is also interrupted or adapted if necessary.

 

What are the benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility for your company?

Before you think about introducing a corporate social responsibility concept, you should think about why you are doing this and what goals you want to pursue with it.

Even if you have already made efforts in terms of CSR, it can be useful to look again at the motivation behind it and review your own commitment. This can help you to focus and classify your efforts, for example to see which measures are really being implemented at the moment and in what way. A suitable method for identifying material issues and stakeholder groups with their requirements is the materiality analysis.

Every organization that wants to introduce Corporate Social Responsibility or is already doing so should ask itself what the reasons are for doing so. Closely related to this is the question of what you want to achieve with CSR. The reasons vary:

  • Economic goals
    When a company introduces CSR, it is often associated with the hope of economic benefits. Often there is a desire behind this, for example, to differentiate oneself from competitors, to gain new customers and to bind customers to one's own organization. Reliable supplier management along the supply chain in terms of CSR also plays an important role here.
  • Self-motivation
    Particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), personal motivation to commit to others or to the issue of sustainability often plays an important role. Here, CSR is mostly neither targeted nor used for communication.
  • External motivation
    Corporate social responsibility has become a "must-have" for many larger companies in recent years. The public, customers and interested parties now expect a certain level of commitment in this regard.
  • Employee motivation
    In the battle for the best employees, it can certainly pay off to position oneself as an attractive employer. Especially in small organizations, employee motivation is an important factor in CSR commitment.
  • Cost reduction
    A new, more resource-efficient machine can save enormous costs. Reducing unnecessary printouts is another example of how environmental protection and cost savings can complement each other perfectly.
  • Compliance
    Legislators are becoming increasingly active at both national and European level. Examples from Germany include the Supply Chain Act (Due Diligence Act) and the now stricter Climate Protection Act. At European level, there is the European Parliament resolution of March 10, 2021 with recommendations to the European Commission on due diligence and corporate accountability.

It is generally inadvisable to pursue merely economic interests with the introduction of corporate social responsibility. In recent years, such efforts have attracted a great deal of public attention and have been viewed critically. Greenwashing is often quickly suspected.

If your company or its top management believes in the rightness of social or environmental commitment, it will be easier to live and implement CSR. Of course, the economic aspects must not be ignored. That is why it is important to always keep an eye on the triad of economy, ecology and social issues.

 

What are the success factors of Corporate Social Responsibility?

When implementing CSR Corporate Social Responsibility, the important success factors are strategy, operational implementation and communication of the CSR commitment. In addition, the willingness to engage in dialog as well as the ability to adapt and learn are important. Pay particular attention to the following:

  • Live values
    Organizations with value-oriented leadership in terms of corporate social responsibility are more successful. Personal contact between management and employees creates the basic conditions for implementing the company's own values.
  • Authentic communication
    A bit of tact is required here. On the one hand, CSR communication should not degenerate into a "marketing gag," but on the other hand, the commitment should not be hushed up. In many cases, a glossy brochure is not required. Classic PR, the use of social media channels and word-of-mouth can ensure that the right message is spread.
  • CSR as part of the business strategy
    Corporate social responsibility is not feasible without the support of top management. Especially in medium-sized companies, executives are the drivers of the issue. They exemplify the values that ultimately distinguish the organization. Activities that are close to the actual core business are often the most decisive. Commitment to the region is often taken for granted. If, for example, a painter helps to renovate the local kindergarten free of charge, this has a more lasting effect locally than a donation to a children's village.
  • Measuring the success of CSR
    To ensure that CSR remains successful over the long term, it is important to talk about the measures and have an overview of the activities. For example, ecological indicators are now easy to collect. But other CSR fields of action often do not require much effort either. Surveying the key figures during management and planning helps you to make CSR success visible and to communicate the successes.

 

How can your company implement Corporate Social Responsibility?

While larger companies and corporations are often already quite advanced when it comes to CSR, medium-sized companies still lack the right approach. Above all, there is a lack of strategic embedding. To achieve this, your organization must clearly acknowledge its own responsibility and formulate and communicate its goals and measures transparently. You should always adhere to the following points:

CSR strategy is supported by top management

Top management is the pillar of the CSR strategy and is also supported by it, if possible directly represented by an executive. In this way, you can show that your CSR measures are not merely a PR exercise.

CSR as part of the overall strategy

The commitment to social responsibility affects the entire organization and its actions. It is important to make a public commitment to corporate social responsibility and to act and communicate accordingly.

The first step is always to formulate your goals and present them in the corporate culture. In a so-called "voluntary commitment", goals such as quality, consumer protection, environmental protection or diversity are recorded.

Involving interested parties

Already during the strategic planning phase, the most important stakeholders should be involved in the CSR process and dialogue should be sought. This provides your organization with many new influences and starting points from which valuable input can be derived. Key interested parties include employees, business partners and suppliers, capital providers, consumers, non-profit organizations, and the social, cultural and political environment.

Communication for transparency

A central component of your CSR strategy should always be communication - but not only after successfully completed measures, but definitely already during planning. You must ensure internal and external transparency throughout by continuously documenting goals and measures and communicating them to stakeholders.

Willingness to cooperate

Corporate social responsibility does not end at the company's boundaries. Your company should also actively participate in the discussion of key issues, such as through involvement in associations and other initiatives. You should also influence business partners and suppliers to implement common goals and measures.

Taking local and regional needs into account

Your company always acts at its location as part of a community and thus in a social, cultural and political environment. Therefore, your CSR strategy must always include responsibility for development and community action in your own region, such as inclusion, environmental protection, social needs, demographic change and so on.

Introduction of a CSR concept

The development and implementation of a CSR strategy should always be based on a firm concept in which the measures and goals are clearly formulated and communicated. This concept should make it clear how the CSR strategy is integrated into the company's activities and core business. Good orientation is provided here by so-called management systems, which give you fixed structures and guidelines.

Further development of the CSR project

Above all, if you decide to introduce a professional management system, you are also committing yourself to the further development of your CSR measures. Such a project should never stand still, but should constantly adapt to new circumstances, optimize outdated standards and set new benchmarks.

Credibly demonstrating successful sustainability activities

You can make your commitment to corporate social responsibility visible not only through communication and PR. Above all, certificates serve as serious proof of your achievements in this area. You also provide your customers, partners, employees and other stakeholders with proof that you are working sustainably and in an exemplary manner. This is because certificates make the interrelationships in your company easier to understand.

With a certificate, you can prove that your company complies with certain binding regulations on a voluntary basis. These sets of rules provide you with so-called management systems that help you to implement certain measures and quality features in the areas of management, product design or dealing with interest groups. If you then have the implementation of your management system certified, you can make your voluntary commitment visible and thus improve your reputation both internally and externally.

Verification of the corporate carbon footprint

From recording greenhouse gas emissions to verifying your greenhouse gas footprint - ISO 14064 shows you the way.

However, the introduction of such a management system does not only regulate your CSR processes. It also commits you to a continuous improvement process (CIP).

The standards behind these certificates differ primarily in their expressiveness. If they were developed by a company alone or by a specific industry, they often enjoy less credibility than if they are carried out by a service provider specializing in certification and accredited by the Deutsche Akkreditierungsstelle GmbH (DAkkS), such as DQS.

As an independent third party, an accredited certification company monitors, among other things, compliance with the voluntary commitment, for example within the framework of a Code of Conduct, which further increases trust. Concrete goals, transparent reporting on compliance with them, and sanctions for non-compliance with the rules and regulations ensure that certification also has a measurable added value.

As soon as your organization strives to achieve a certain standard, the first step is to check internally that the associated requirements have been met. During the subsequent certification process, an independent auditor (assessor) confirms your approach. He visits your site, looks at documents, verifies the implementation of the objectives and thus convinces himself of the compliance with the set of rules.

Where do you stand on the issue of sustainability?

With a CSR Risk Assessment by DQS, you get an overview of the relevant interested parties, risks and opportunities.

With such a regular audit, your company puts its voluntary CSR commitment on a stable footing and can improve communication with internal and external stakeholders.

Getting sustainability standards certified: these are your options

Management standards have seen a tremendous upswing in recent years. More and more organizations are using the internationally recognized systems as the basis for their own management system and as a foundation for sustainable business and development.

Many ISO management systems have a common basic structure - the so-called High Level Structure (HLS). It ensures a uniform structure and stands for a risk-based and process-oriented approach. In this way, the internally and externally relevant factors and the associated interests of all stakeholders are always taken into account and included.

Those who decide in favor of such a management system usually also want to benefit from the advantages of certification. This is because a certificate provides you with recognized proof of the holistic implementation of your CSR measures. Annual monitoring serves to ensure the stability and risk minimization of your measures.

Since the topic of corporate social responsibility is very broad, you have several options for having your various CSR measures certified according to internationally recognized standards.

CSR Risk Management - Focus on sustainability risks

Do you want to demonstrate your activities in social, ecological and economic sustainability and show stakeholders that you effectively combine economic, ecological and social measures? Then CSR Risk Assessment is the right solution for you. Using a 360° radar, risks are identified and the essential aspects and requirements for you are filtered out of the market-relevant sustainability regulations.

An overview:

ISO 14001 - keeping an eye on the environment

ISO 14001 is the best-known standard for putting your environmental management on a solid footing. The standard is primarily aimed at reducing your environmental impact. The emphasis is on a risk-based approach and compliance with commitments. Companies that follow ISO 14001 not only contribute to environmental protection, but at the same time gain a high degree of legal certainty by complying with legal obligations.

ISO 14064-1 - Reduction of greenhouse gases

With ISO 14064-1, your company can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases in order to achieve the targeted climate goals. With the help of the standard, you will always have a reliable overview of your own emissions so that you can draw meaningful conclusions.

It provides a suitable framework for greenhouse gas accounting and is a good basis for reliable reporting. ISO 14064-1 is part of a series of standards that also includes 14064-2 (greenhouse gas projects) and 14064-3 (verification and validation of greenhouse gas balance).

ISO 45001 - Safety and health at work

The standard helps you keep track of work policies, hazard identification and assessment, and risk minimization. ISO 45001 serves as a useful tool to comply with the strict legal requirements in Germany at all times. In this way, you not only achieve a high level of legal certainty, but can also minimize work-related risks for employees.

ISO 50001 - Energy management as a CSR factor

ISO 50001 places high demands on your energy management systems. On the one hand, you can improve your energy efficiency with the standard. On the other hand, you can reduce your costs by saving energy. In this way, you not only act sustainably, but also contribute to compliance and can benefit from tax relief.

ISO 26000 - The CSR guide

The international guideline ISO 26000 is the technically and methodically broadly based guide if you want to align your management system according to the possibilities for action of social responsibility (CSR/Corporate Social Responsibility) and the sustainability standards presented above. Even though the guide itself is not certifiable, it provides many valuable and structured approaches for sustainability management.

IQNET SR 10 - Anchoring CSR principles in processes

IQNet SR 10 is an international, certifiable standard based on ISO 26000, offered by the IQNET Association, the worldwide association of certifiers to which DQS also belongs. SR 10 enables companies and organizations of all sizes and in all industries to anchor the principles of corporate social responsibility in their processes and to document them externally. The certification process follows the classical certification procedure of DQS, as it is also used for other management system standards.

 

Corporate Social Responsibility - DQS can support you

DQS is your competent partner when it comes to certification of your corporate social responsibility measures. No matter if it is about environmental protection measures, occupational health and safety, sustainability, efficient energy management or the validation of your greenhouse gas inventory (GHG balance).

Above all, it is important for us to also ask "why". Because we want to understand why you have chosen an individual path in the implementation of your corporate responsibility. Impartiality and objectivity are always fundamental elements.

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We will gladly answer your questions

Find out more about how we can provide you with concrete support on the subject of CSR. Without obligation and free of charge.

When it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, you too can rely on DQS certification and thus on particularly effective instruments for the further development of your management system. You will gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of your organization.

When certifying your CSR measures, rely on DQS' many years of experience and proven methods. Our experts are always available to answer any further questions you may have.

Author
Altan Dayankac

DQS product manager and expert on numerous sustainability, climate, environmental and occupational safety topics. Altan Dayankac also contributes his expertise as an author and presenter on environmental and occupational health and safety committees, and at numerous professional events.

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<p>DQS standard expert for environmental management and occupational safety</p>