So what exactly did Unilever CMO Keith Weed mean when he told the annual Marketing Society audience in London at the end of last year that CSR departments have become redundant? Well, besides meaning to be just a little bit provocative, he also meant that the time has come to look past add-on CSR units within a corporation and start thinking about integration.
Calling a CSR department redundant wasn’t Weed’s way of saying CSR or sustainability efforts no longer have value. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Much like the example that Unilever is striving to set, integrated sustainability means putting sustainable principles into every facet of business operations. CSR is not the sole purvey of corporate affairs, the corporate foundation, the marketing department or even facilities. It’s part of all these departments and more. With integration, sustainability drives strategy, planning and the core of what and who the business is.
Companies that put integrated sustainability into practice strive to build a culture of environmental and social responsibility. Fostering a culture that embraces these values down to every decision is an effective way to standardize and insure compliance. (See Bertel’s Framework for more on this idea). Leaders such as Inteland Cisco incorporate sustainability goals – among other core frameworks – into individual employee performance reviews and base bonuses on successful achievement of these goals.
Intel and Cisco, among other leaders, also work to integrate sustainability into governance strategy. Board-level planning and decisions to embed sustainability into strategy reinforces this type of corporate culture. It also pushes the company to take a longer-term approach and innovate for the future challenges of a resource-constrained world. (For more on Intel and Cicso, check out their ratings on CSRHub. Intel scores a 66 andCisco scores a 69.)
With the whole team on board, and executive reinforcement, there is no longer an isolated CSR effort. Instead, sustainability becomes a part of each decision, product and service. Nike’s Considered Design is an example of sustainability at conception, design and production of a product. Rather than looking at how to reduce impact after the product is made and shipped, Nike has taken a leadership role in employing principles of sustainable design right from the start. Integrated sustainability means thinking about this challenge every step of the way and in every conference room, office, assembly line and factory.