What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility is a term that has come to mean whatever a company does to give back to the community in which it has a presence. Sometimes this involves grants, volunteerism or sponsorships. Other times, a company will choose to demonstrate its corporate social responsibility by a commitment to clean energy or some other laudable effort or cause.


John D. Rockefeller, whose success in business enabled him to start the Rockefeller Foundation in the early twentieth century, articulated the essence of corporate social responsibility. He said, "I was trained from the beginning to work and save. I have always regarded it as a religious duty to get all I could honorably and to give all I could." Whenever businesses make contributions to their community, they are honoring this tradition of giving back to the people who make their ongoing success possible.


There are several different ways that companies express their corporate social responsibility. Wal-Mart, for example, has made a commitment to use 100 percent clean energy and to produce zero waste. It has set benchmarks to reach this goal. By 2012, Wal-Mart plans to fuel a third of its stores with clean energy. Already it supplies 15 percent of their Texas stores with wind energy. Environmental and other socially vital commitments is usually among the promises that responsible companies make to their communities.


Boeing is another company that takes corporate citizenship seriously. The aviation company has set aside a percentage of its revenue to be given to nonprofit organizations that work in education, health and human services, arts and culture, civic life and the environment. According to vice president of Boeing Global Corporate Citizenship, Anne Eleanor Roosevelt, the company intends to "facilitate" community change and not just to "fund" it. Corporate social responsibility is a core value at Boeing. Many companies have similar giving programs. Some have created 501(c)(3) foundations to give away a minimum of 5 percent of the foundation's assets each year to nonprofits that share their priorities.


Likewise, Goldman Sachs expresses its commitment to corporate social responsibility by making grants to nonprofit organizations. The financial institution is especially interested in programs that increase the earning potential of women and that improve education for emerging leaders. In addition, this company is committed to sharing its expertise with nonprofit organizations. It pays its employees to work a day at a nonprofit organization. It also provides fellowships that pay for its best performers to spend a year on loan to nonprofit organizations which will benefit from their knowledge and experience. Volunteerism is a growing way that many corporations are using to show that they care about the less fortunate members of local communities.

Expert Insight

To learn how a corporation expresses its corporate social responsibility, go to its main website. There, look for links to one of the following phrases: "corporate social responsibility," "corporate citizenship," "our community," "giving back," "grants," "sponsorships" or some variation on these words. If there is no link at the top, check the small print at the bottom of the home page. When nothing like this is evident, click on "About Us." There may be another set of links embedded in this area of the website.