The MKCREATIVE blog welcomes Maria Lilly, principal of
As I canvas the business marketplace, I am thrilled to see the ongoing emergence of corporate responsibility and sustainability as a critical piece of the business lexicon.
Ironically though, there appears to be some confusion about the connection between these two terms. Nomenclature issues and old definitions continue to confuse people – even some professionals working in the space. Let me connect these dots.
Sustainability has historically been an environmental term. Green technology innovations, programs to stem pollution, and efforts to beautify planet Earth, are all commonly referred to as “sustainable efforts”. The “sustainable development” movement was actually born in the late ‘80s following a series of chemical disasters and became a bigger part of the American dialogue in the early ‘90s post the Exxon Valdez spill.
Today, the definition of sustainability is now being used to reflect so much more. Following the near crash of the financial system and a crippling recession, business leaders now define sustainability as strategically working to ensure an economically, operationally and environmentally secure future. A survey issued by the UN Global Compact and Accenture in June 2010 and the in September 2010 address the need for Sustainability in these terms.
So what’s the connection to corporate responsibility? Corporate responsibility is how a company operates on a sustainable basis — economically, socially and environmentally. In effect, CR and sustainability are the same things. And today’s consumers and investors are increasingly supporting companies that make corporate responsibility and sustainability intrinsic to their business and future plans.
This means companies engaging in corporate responsibility and sustainability efforts must embrace a wide spectrum of business issues. This includes: committing to ethically sound corporate governance procedures that center on greater transparency and longer-term profitability as opposed to short-term gain; researching, developing, and offering safe, healthy and environmentally friendly products at cost-efficient prices from organic foods to alternative energy sources; and utilizing operational practices that ensure safe manufacturing and adherence to environmental standards coupled with strict supply-chain management to work with only those partners using similar business protocols.
Corporate responsibility also includes the commitment to strategic philanthropy – the historical essence of most CR programs – in addressing critical educational, healthcare and social welfare concerns. This translates into creating public affairs programs that drive social consciousness; launching cause-marketing campaigns that deliver support through product sales; or funding nonprofit institutions that make, on the ground, real changes in communities around our world.
And lest we forget, a responsible, sustainable company is committed to people – both home and abroad. This means supporting human rights in every corner of the world while offering a litany of HR programs for a company’s workforce to encourage diversity, professional development, mentoring, volunteerism, and life/balance and wellness initiatives.
Corporate responsibility and sustainability now exist on the same business axis. A decade into the new millennium, it’s encouraging to see how these two issues have merged to form new business strategies with a 360-degree focus.
Maria Lilly is Principal of MJ Lilly Associates LLC, a strategic communications consultancy. Visit her blog at, where this article first appeared.