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Business without blushing

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

’Doing business without blushing’ is a notion we came across in 2016 that very much shapes our drive and our wishes for the coming year.

During the autumn of 2016, CSR Europe organised a workshop for tax executives of our member companies. Tax transparency and fair tax were the topics discussed and one of the directors explained his approach as follows: “We apply only tax measures that I can explain to a general audience without blushing”

In a time of post-truth politics, doing business without having to blush is a very valuable asset.

Being able to explain, without one’s cheeks reddening, what the purpose of your company is, what it is trying to achieve practically for, in and with society and how it tries to achieve this, is essential. This is what is needed in order to have a strong, productive and sustainable approach to business. Past examples have shown that there is still room for improvement and that is why CSR Europe will continue its offer on maturity and integration of sustainability management systems in 2017:  learning networks, assessment tools and webinars are on the agenda for our members to take advantage of.

But it cannot be business as usual anymore, especially not in the world of CSR and sustainability.

The era of globalisation has not only yielded unprecedented decreases in poverty and increases in health and education levels (see 5 impressive charts here), it also is seen more and more, and especially in western democracies, as a threat for job security, identity and security.

In the wake of declining legitimacy business has a key role to play.  It is obvious that it is in the interest of business that stable democracies exist and that open borders are the norm.

In order to safeguard the benefits of globalisation, it will be the companies who will have to increasingly tackle its negative consequences. At local level, they should not have to blush but rather they should be able to be proud of what they contribute to society

This is not only about the taxes they pay, but about employment, products and services delivered in a sustainable way. Business does not have to save the world, but there needs to be a breakthrough in new forms of value creation. John Elkington of Volans called this Breakthrough Business Models, we call this the Transformation Agenda and it is the need for business leaders to fundamentally transform the way business is done: the why, the what and the how.

The agenda and the challenge is therefore not about compliance anymore, nor is it about reporting (which is only a means to an end, as we have been saying for years now). It is neither about ’checking boxes’or auditing high numbers in the supply chain, nor having a CSR department running nice and ‘hopefully impactful’ programmes.

It is even beyond the shared value agenda, it is about a transformation that is built on the premise of sustainability being the driver for success for every company in the mid- and long-term.

Business leadership will need to embrace circularity, integration, collaboration and to deliver both financial and non-financial value. These are the key features for real sustainability leadership and that is what CSR Europe will promote and support. To do that we will go beyond CSR departments and work with business divisions throughout our membership. We have already proven to be successful on this in the automotive sector and have moved a supply chain compliance initiative towards a supplier capacity-building effort of 12 of the largest automotive companies in the world.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide us with a good common language for the challenges we face. CSR Europe, through its contacts at the European Commission and with the UN Global Compact, has become the platform and catalyst for business action on the SDGs in Europe.

2017 is the year of action and we have therefore launched the Sustainable Business Exchange; our platform to learn, exchange and collaborate towards the UN SDGs, focusing on two  main actions:

  1. We will support our members to achieve a more fundamental internal transformation to bring more shareholder and societal value: by bringing a stronger articulation of its social purpose, through embracing a circular and closed-loop approach, in making sustainable customer offerings, by providing stronger employee engagement and promoting enhanced transparency.
  2. We will also invest in collaboration, not only in public private engagement, but also between companies, in sectors, between divisions and among affiliates of companies, etc.

This is exactly the role that a forward-looking sustainability business organisation like CSR Europe needs to play.

In order to avoid blushing, we will provide our members the space and input to advance on this agenda.

It is much needed for 2017.

Best wishes

Hans Daems, Chair of the Board of Directors
Stefan Crets, Executive Director