Corporate social responsibility is a two-edged sword. On one dangerous edge is the corporation's social responsibility to its shareholders, employees and suppliers to avoid business activities that reduce the financial success of the company. The other dangerous edge is the public good, which is often represented by small groups of people claiming to speak for the public good. However, true public good can be defined as the basics of clean environment, freedom of choice and adequate if not pleasant living standards -- among other concerns. As Milton Friedman wrote in his book "Capitalism and Freedom," "there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."

Determine the true opinions on social responsibility held by the stakeholders of a corporation -- shareholders, employees, companies that service the corporation, and municipalities that depend on revenue from employed consumers and corporate taxes. This can be an enormous task better suited to broad studies than individual questionnaires, particularly since evidence suggests that the average person is ambivalent on most of the issues raised by socially conscious interest groups.

Study ways to meet the corporation's responsibility to its stakeholders while still operating in the public good. It has been shown that a corporation's image improves, and occasionally its revenues, through public service projects. That is why oil companies advertise their support of public television and environmental projects.

Educate the public regarding the voting power of their consumer habits. To make it profitable for corporations to focus on their social responsibilities, the consumer must take an interest and be aware of projects and achievements in CSR by companies they can patronize. They must also be educated about the damage their own buying and living habits do, and their own social responsibilities as individuals.

Deal with reality if you are trying to improve the social responsibility of your own company. In a study by IBM, 68 percent of the companies surveyed reported they were looking at socially responsible initiatives to bring in revenues through new product lines and services. Innovation in administration, manufacturing, advertising, product offerings and customer service can produce true benefit but it takes time, effort and money.

Announce publicly -- through the press and advertising -- your company's social responsibility initiatives and report on their success. Recognize the achievements of stakeholders, particularly your employees and community leaders, in helping to achieve value for the public good.


If you are trying to promote a CSR program in your company or at an outside corporation, present the argument in a way that avoids the simple "This is the right thing to do" and try to imagine what the corporate managers want. Briefly, they want a way to reduce expense or generate new revenues, so your proposal should present cost-saving measures or new product lines that would be created thanks to the adoption of a CSR program.


Promoting corporate social responsibility proposals that are unsustainable owing to the fact that they cost more money than can be recouped, either through expense reduction or revenue generation, creates an image of failure for future CSR initiatives.