Corporate social responsibility refers to a method of running a company that seeks to address not only profitability, but also the environmental and social consequences of the business. While most corporate social responsibility concerns are directed at very large businesses, even small- and medium-sized businesses that employ a large number of local residents or participate in environmentally problematic industries can face pressure to adopt corporate social responsibility.

Pro: Improved Company Reputation

Embracing a policy of corporate social responsibility, paired with genuine action, can serve to build or improve the reputation of a business. If a company’s behavior creates a negative backlash that leads to lost profitability -- over environmental issues, for example -- corporate social responsibility becomes a method to repair reputation damage and restore profitability. In other cases, adopting such a policy works as part of a business’ essential brand, and consumers often demonstrate more loyalty to brands that can demonstrate a commitment to environmental concerns.

Con: Costs

Cost represents one of the biggest arguments against adopting corporate social responsibility as a policy. Programs to reduce environmental impact often require expensive changes in equipment or ongoing costs without any clear way to recoup those losses. The decision to maintain domestic production facilities or call centers or to buy from domestic producers rather than outsource or move production overseas can drive up costs for a business. Additionally, there is no clear evidence that adhering to a policy of corporate social responsibility generates a significant increase in sales or profit.

Pro: Better Customer Relations

One of the hallmarks of corporate social responsibility is staying involved in the communities where the business operates. This community involvement goes a long way toward building trust between customers and the business. If a business builds trust with its customers, they tend to give the business the benefit of the doubt if something goes wrong, rather than assuming malicious intent or raw negligence. Customers also tend to stick with businesses they trust, rather than actively seeking out new companies, which helps keep a business profitable over the long haul.

Con: Shareholder Resistance

Some investors do look to acquire stock in socially responsible corporations, but, on the whole, investors purchase stock on the expectations of turning a profit. While some companies, such as Toyota and GE, have profited from corporate social responsibility, companies that adopt such policies often prove as likely to lose money. Given the spotty track record of corporate social responsibility in demonstrating profit increase, investors may resist attempts by executives to move a company in that direction.