What Is Corporate Social Responsibility? Corporate Social Responsibility In A Nutshell

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business model that helps an organization remain socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the general public. Corporate social responsibility is typically categorized into four types: environmental, ethical, philantropic, and economic.

Understanding corporate social responsibility

For most of recorded history, businesses have been driven by the singular desire to turn a profit, with money-making potential impacting every action taken or initiative pursued.

However, modern businesses have started to realize that they must do more than simply maximize profits for shareholders and executives. They now have a social responsibility to act in the best interests of employees, consumers, and society as a whole.

Corporate social responsibility is a form of self-regulation where the business strives to become socially accountable. While there is no single way to implement CSR principles, employees, consumers, and other stakeholders are now more likely to choose a brand that contributes to society in some shape or form.

To illustrate the importance of corporate social responsibility, a 2017 study found that 63% of American citizens hoped businesses would drive social and environmental change without being forced to do so by the government. Almost 75% said they would not do business with a company if it supported an issue contradictory to their own beliefs.

Corporate social responsibility types

Corporate social responsibility is typically categorized into four types:


One of the most common forms of CSR is environmental responsibility. Here, companies seek to become environmentally friendly by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and increasing their reliance on renewable energy. Alternatively, some companies choose to offset their environmental impact by planting trees or funding scientific research.


Or any practice that compels the organization to behave in a fair and ethical manner, including the equitable treatment of stakeholders, leadership, investors, suppliers, employees, and customers. Ethical responsibility may also be demonstrated by an organization paying above minimum wage or making a commitment to avoid sourcing products from child labor.


Where a business aims to make a positive impact on society by donating to charities, non-profits, or a similar organization of their own making. Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business type that balances purpose with profit. These organisations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on stakeholders.


The foundation for environmental, ethical, and philanthropic responsibility for without profit, the business would not survive long enough to implement other initiatives. 

Corporate social responsibility case studies

Who are the companies leading the way in corporate social responsibility? 

Let’s take a look at three examples below:


Starbucks is a retail company that sells beverages (primarily consisting of coffee-related drinks) and food. In 2018, Starbucks had 52% of company-operated stores vs. 48% of licensed stores. The revenues for company-operated stores accounted for 80% of total revenues, thus making Starbucks a chain business model

On its website, Starbucks states that “It’s our commitment to do things that are good to people, each other and the planet. From the way we buy our coffee, to minimising environmental impact, to being involved in local communities.” To that end, Starbucks only purchases responsibly grown, ethically traded coffee. The company is also on a mission to donate 100 million coffee trees to suppliers by 2025 and also offers a pioneering college program for its employees.


Over the years, the Danish toy company has invested millions of dollars into addressing climate change and reducing waste. The company has an ambitious goal to go carbon neutral by 2022. It also recently launched the Lego Replay scheme, where unwanted Lego bricks are donated and redistributed to children in need.


The strategy was popularized by TOMS Shoes in 2006, with the shoe company donating a new pair of shoes to a child in a developing country for every pair of shoes sold to a consumer.  The one-for-one business model is based on the idea that for every consumer purchase, an equivalent or similar product is given away to someone in need.

A shoe, eyewear, and apparel company that was founded with corporate social responsibility embedded in its mission. TOMS donates a pair of shoes to disadvantaged children from more than 50 countries with every customer purchase. The company also has a strong environmental focus, with shoes made from hemp, organic cotton, and recycled polyester. Shoe boxes are also made from 80% consumer waste and printed with soy-based ink.

Key takeaways:

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business model helping an organization remain socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the general public. Most consumers now expect businesses to adopt CSR principles before they make a purchase.
  • Corporate social responsibility is broadly divided into four different types: environmental, ethical, philanthropic, and economic. The latter is important in ensuring the business remains viable long enough to make a positive impact.
  • Starbucks is a company with established corporate social responsibility principles, sourcing fair-trade coffee beans and donating coffee plants to its farmers. Danish toy company Lego is reducing toy waste and donating used bricks to those in need, while shoe company TOMS matches every shoe purchase with a donation to disadvantaged children in over 50 countries.

Read Next: ESG Criteria, Competitive Intelligence.

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