On Mondays, http://www.global-changemakers.net turns into Speakers’ Corner: members of the network and community have their say on their work and the issues that concern them.
CSR: Being a fish in the sea
CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) cannot be an optional topping on the corporate pizza; it must be more like the yeast in a loaf of bread. CSR must be a critical component, part of what defines the corporation, not something that is added on and can be done without to save money.
That was the main point Prof. Emil Salim wanted to get across when we sat down to discuss the current state of CSR and corporate sustainability in Indonesia.
Emil is almost a legend in Indonesia. An intensely patriotic Indonesian who developed a taste for Japanese food while living under the harsh conditions of the occupation of WW II, he was educated at University of Indonesia, and went to Berkeley on a scholarship; he came home with a PhD and since then has held various Indonesian ministerial posts, including 10 years as minister for population and the environment.
He is a professor on the Faculty of Economics at his alma mater, University of Indonesia, a member of countless boards, associations and foundations, most doing work on social and environmental sustainability. He is also a member of the Presidential Council of Advisors, where his guidance on issues related to sustainability helps form public policy. Emil is a committed environmentalist, often speaking on the relationship between economics and sustainability; being 80 years old hasn’t slowed him down or eroded his commitment.
That CSR needs to be an inherent part of any corporate culture was the main message he wanted to deliver. For sustainability itself to be sustainable, Emil argues that the sense of social responsibility must be embedded in the corporation’s DNA; sustainability must be an inherent component of every corporate activity.
Hugh Collett, a teacher at the Jakarta International School, is another committed environmentalist. He is in the process of developing a “sustainability village” that will be a model of sustainable living; it is to be an educational resource as well as a practical example of how life can be carried on while leaving a minimal footprint. Emil is on the board of directors of the foundation created to manage the village.
Collett argues that if sustainability is not inherent in a corporate culture, bureaucracy and other structural issues can be a hurdle. How important is corporate commitment? “That…depends on how willing such corporations are prepared to ‘walk the talk’. In my experience, promoting my own environmental initiative of an educational eco village, talking is easier than walking (and less expensive!),” he says.
As to the practical implementation of the concepts, CSR consultant and university lecturer Patrick Guntensperger, another member of the board of Collett’s village, insists that sustainability decision-making must be at the highest possible level of the corporate structure. “At the very minimum, there should be an executive vice president with the word ‘sustainability’ featuring prominently in the job description. Of course, a committed board of directors is vital too.”
What he is getting at is that for sustainability to be a prime criterion for corporate decision-making to become habitual, the process must be overseen by someone with the highest possible authority and sustainability as a core value. Emil also adds to this point. “The technology is there. What we need is the will to make it happen, and that is the decision of the board of directors.”
A perfect example of this is Body Shop. Dame Anita Roddick, its founder, was known for championing the unconventional way of doing business by promoting its ethical aspects. She famously summarized the company’s way of doing business: “The business of business should not just be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.”
Indeed, Body Shop took part in numerous campaigns that embrace sustainability, “Our Incredible Planet” being one of them, since the establishment of its first store in 1976. The company’s mission statement also strongly emphasizes sustainability; the corporation strives to “courageously ensure that our business is ecologically sustainable, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future.” As for its products, without promoting sustainability and protection of the planet, Body Shop is just simply not Body Shop.
Collett also points out that the main roadblock to sustainability issues is actually a moral issue. “In essence, I believe that human selfishness and prevailing attitudes based on greed, self-interest, and ignorance are the root of the difficulties”. Nevertheless, with more and more corporations including CSR as a fundamental aspect of their style of business, things seem to be changing.
The key to implement CSR effectively, therefore, Emil argues, is that corporations must build a symbiotic relationship with the society of which the corporation is part. “You must be the fish in a sea, in which the fish and the sea are interlinked; not as an island, detached from the sea. The role of CSR is building that relationship of being the fish in a sea.”
Ghian Tjandaputra, 20, is a Global Changemaker from Indonesia. He is a youth advisor to the Indonesian delegation in COP15. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter: @ghiankr
This article was first published by The Jakarta Post.
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