CSR in a Recession: Will sustainability be sustainable?

Although CSR has recently taken a back seat in the corporate agenda, it can’t be taken off the long-term business plan. In a tough economic climate, decisions have to be made, and with everyone focused on creating value for the customers, people may not consider CSR as a business essential. However, despite economic concerns there is still a strong case for sustainable business practices and many companies are continuing to innovate. 

“There is no doubt that the current tough economic climate will make companies think twice about spending money on anything but essentials to their business This will be a real test of companies’ commitment to sustainability and whether it has become embedded in a company’s culture.”(Amanda Barnes, chief executive of Faversham House Group, environmental magazines and exhibitions).


Companies CAN save money by being sustainable

The preliminary results of CSR initiatives during this downturn are encouraging. Many firms really do seem to have found ways of making the world better while making (and saving) money at the same time. For example GE, has built its entire business model around sustainability. Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, unveiled a $6 billion plan to help its health-care division increase its profits while broadening people’s access to low-cost health care around the world. (www.theeconomist.com) However, many smaller businesses don’t have the deep pockets that GE does. How are smaller companies saving money AND being socially responsible? Here are some examples of what’s being done:

Tulsa, Oklahoma-based supplier SELCO Custom Time, Inc. (UPIC: SELCO) are instituting flex-time programs. SELCO’s a four-day workweek program for members of its production department has reduced employees’ gas expenses and carbon emissions by 20 percent.


Enel Energia has introduced a new range of “e-light” plans, which offer customers guaranteed prices for electricity. The Enel Group company was the first in Italy to offer families a rate plan that fixed the electricity component of the price for two full years, allowing customers to save up to 27% on their electricity bills compared with the standard price. The “e light” services also include a web portal, which allows customer to easily find and store all the contract and billing documentation in electronic format, whilst also reducing paper consumption. 


The Most Compelling Reason

There is one other important reason for thinking that companies will need to maintain their commitments to sustainability: the need to restore confidence in business.  ExCeL London’s CEO Mark raises the most compelling reason:

“Let’s not forget that one of the key reasons that the recession is on us is thanks to unsustainable business practices, being too concerned with profiteering and not focused enough on balancing profit with social and environmental targets.”

Business leaders now have the chance to show that they are not just motivated by short-term profits, but a long-term strategy that balances with socially responsible initiatives.  Will they rise to the challenge? Time will tell.


MBA/CRES Student, HR Professional, and Social Media Advocate

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Posted in corporate sustainability, sustainable development
2 comments on “CSR in a Recession: Will sustainability be sustainable?
  1. manitobadan says:

    Here’s a good article in the Globe and Mail about how companies are using green makeovers to give them a a competitive advantage in difficult times.


    It’s an interesting perspective that maybe difficult times can help push some companies into action that they otherwise would have put off.

  2. jeremy says:

    Very good post Erika … the most popular during the course of the week … I think your catchy title attracted a few external visitors 😉

    What you say makes perfect sense, of course, and I completely agree that if the economic downturn does anything, it will sort out those who are serious about sustainability and those who are not.

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