When we talk about corporate social responsibility, we don't see it as something we do to society, it is inherent in everything we do.
Niall FitzGerald, 2003
Contemporary society expects corporations to be more socially responsible. The notion that a corporation is an economic institution engaged in the production of goods and services with the end-in-view of maximizing shareholder value has been de-emphasized, if not persistently challenged. The prevailing view holds that, as a central part of modern society, corporations are economic institutions with ethical responsibilities to society. The modern corporation is not only concerned about its economic performance and its fiduciary duty to its owners, it is equally concerned with the well being of its employees, the welfare of the community, the health of the environment and many other societal concerns.
If we feel uncomfortable with this idea, it is for the reason that we continue to hold a deep belief in the conventional concept of the corporation which suggests that its raison d'être is purely economic and that the corporation will avoid, where possible, social benefit issues. Revealing some kind of tension between the economic and social categories, the conventional view further holds that business ought to be methodologically differentiated from the other societal institutions engaged in equity concerns and the distribution of social benefits.
The contemporary view holds that social responsibility is integral to the wealth creation process of business. As opposed to differentiation in the former, it presupposes functional unity in that, along with improving economic performance, the modern corporation is also concerned with improving quality of life.
Crowther and Rayman-Bacchus (2004) maintain that, as a concept, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is "vague and means different things to different people." Indeed, as an integrating concept, it is diffused. The literature not only reveals a plurality of interpretations but also a wealth of experience grounded on different frames of reference from the global down to the local community level. At its simplest, CSR has to do with corporate behavior and the relationship of the corporation with all of its stakeholders or those that have an interest in its decisions and actions.
It is not the intent here to provide a normative definition of CSR or present the plurality of interpretations and pursue an abridged theoretical discussion of the concept. Instead, we draw from specific experience at the local level to elaborate about CSR in practice.
Practice though reveals the wide landscape covered by CSR as corporations today have taken interest, if not direct engagement, in many societal concerns. The operational categories are abundant. These categories may either be inward or outward-looking. Examples of the former are occupational health, workplace safety, work-life balance, and equal opportunity. Community development in the form of social infrastructure and/or capacity building, biodiversity action and sustainable development, conservation and environmental protection and many others are outward-looking categories.
This paper explicitly focuses on the environmental dimension of corporate social responsibility. It is an interesting and rich theme considering that public concern for the environment has immensely expanded from where it was 20 or so years ago. Moreover, just as there has been a rise in shareholder interest for management accountability and transparency, so has there been a rise in stakeholder interest for firms to make public their initiatives for the environment.