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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Connected Business Frameworks To Corporate Social Responsibility

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria comprise a set of standards socially responsible investors use to evaluate a company based on three main criteria: environmental, social, and corporate governance. Combined they help assess the social responsibility effort of companies in the marketplace.
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An effective risk management framework is crucial for any organization. The framework endeavors to protect the organization’s capital base and revenue generation capability without hindering growth. A risk management framework (RMF) allows businesses to strike a balance between taking risks and reducing them.
Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.
Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.
The Kepner-Tregoe matrix was created by management consultants Charles H. Kepner and Benjamin B. Tregoe in the 1960s, developed to help businesses navigate the decisions they make daily, the Kepner-Tregoe matrix is a root cause analysis used in organizational decision making.
The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.
Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.
A holacracy is a management strategy and an organizational structure where the power to make important decisions is distributed throughout an organization. It differs from conventional management hierarchies where power is in the hands of a select few. The core principle of a holacracy is self-organization where employees organize into several teams and then work in a self-directed fashion toward a common goal.
The CAGE Distance Framework was developed by management strategist Pankaj Ghemawat as a way for businesses to evaluate the differences between countries when developing international strategies. Therefore, be able to better execute a business strategy at the international level.
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.
Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.
Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.
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