Friday, October 23, 2009

#CSR without EMBEDDING is like CHUNKY without MONKEY

One of the popular csr-speak terms you need to be familiar with these days is EMBED. says this means "to fix into a surrounding mass: to embed stones in cement". So if your Company is a mass of cement, your CSR program is the stones. Makes sense, right?  The concept of embedding CSR is not new. I suspect (I am guessing) that one of the first to use this term for CSR was AccountAbility in their first exposure draft of the AA1000 principles in 1999.  EMBEDDEDNESS was one of the principles related to management of the process on an ongoing basis :
" Embeddedness – or systems integration, concerns making the social and ethical accounting, auditing and reporting processes part of the organisation’s operations, systems and policy making, and not treated as a one-off exercise to produce a social and ethical report"  (they like long sentences at AccountAbility).
Many Companies who report on their CSR or Sustainability LOVE to use this great word EMBED. It expreses the fact that CSR is not just something you add on to your "real" business activities, but something that is part of the fabric of your business and integrated in all processes and practices. Most mature CSR reporters like to express the embeddedness of their CSR. Sounds kinda noble and professional, right?
The Stagecoach Group in their 2009 CSR report say: "We have a clear set of values which underpin our business and are firmly embedded in our Group’s culture." And thousands of reports offer variations on this theme. And my recent post on "When CSR reporting is a waste of paper"  provided an example of the problem of UN-EMBEDDEDNESS - ie what happens when you really haven't got this embed thing covered at all levels of your organization.

So this is why i was interested to read Ethical Corporation's latest research publication on How to embed Corporate Responsibility across different parts of your Company. This is a 100 page report published at end September 2009. It provides an analysis and case studies covering 5 organizational functions: Human Resources, Finance and Accounting, Communications, Procurement and Logistics and Operations. I will blog about each of these functional zoom-ins and the related embedding stuff one-by-one in the next few posts. (Disclosure: Ethical Corp kindly provided me with a complimentary copy so that i could read, learn and share - but, they didnt tell me what to say! - all views are my own) Ethical Corp's research data is "aggregated, analysed and triangulated".( I am glad its triangulated. Meant I got to learn the meaning of another long word.)The report is in two sections - first, an overall survey of the way CR is embedded, practiced and communicated in large corporations, and second, specific functional guides. And of course, there is a set of recommendations. I guess Ethical Corp wouldn't be too pleased if i revealed all their recommendations free of charge to the world, but i can't resist quoting the one which says: " Reporting Effectively: Producing a CR report ... remains a highly effective tool."

I will start my blog series with one of my favourite subjects: Human Resources.
CR minus HR = PR. (Wish i knew who said that!)
The Ethical Corp research covers how to embed C(S)R via the Human Resources function in order to achieve maximum productivity and staff morale, and refers to :
  • recruiting and training staff
  • maximising employee performance and competencies
  • managing a company's personal employee evaluation and appraisal system
  • building an ethical corporate culture and engaging employees.
I always say that CSR is about moving from accounting for "impacts on employees" to enhancing and accounting for the "impacts of employees" ie transforming the business perspective into one which ensures that every single internal and external touchpoint of employees in an organization leverages the CSR approach of the business.

The HR research uses input from CSR Managers  at Hewlett Packard, Boots, Novo Nordisk and BT, and case studies from Starbuck's and Campbell Soup regarding their HR-CR practices. Interesting reading, actually. The section ends up with a short checklist for HR Managers with the key learning points from the research. 

All the Companies quoted in this section are of course strong CSR reporters. 
HP's 2008 report (GRI B self-declared) doesn't actually use the word embed to describe their CR - perhaps this is because embedding is also associated with technology ( review steps for accessing the HP embedded web server (EWS), but their report covers quite a lot of detail of employee engagement in CR activities.
Alliance Boots 2008-2009 Report (not GRI indexed) say that embedding comes naturally: "As a pharmacy-led heath and beauty group, our corporate social responsibility principles are naturally embedded in the working practices of our people."
Novo Nordisk's 2008 (GRI A+ self-declared) integrated report  describes how strategies are revised after the management of CR issues has been fully embedded in the organisation so that they are fully integrated into business processes, as part of the way they determine materiality.
BT Group's 2009 (GRI A+) report talk about the  BT Sustainable Marketing Programme as part of their commitment to embedding the principles of sustainability into business as usual
Starbucks 2008 (GRI B+ self declared) Global Repsonsibility Report confirms that "being a responsible business is a commitment that is embedded in our culture. "
Campbell Soup Company's first 2008 (non-GRI) report talks about four "overarching themes" which are embedded in their mission statement.

So there you have it, people are embedding CSR, or trying to. At least they have adopted the politically correct csr-speak. Embedding is no small task and does require a level of maturity and organizational alignment which are not achieved overnight. And there is no doubt that a strong, professional and skilled Human Resources function can play a significant role. So if you aspire to have both the Chunky AND the Monkey, think about the way your HR function embeds YOUR csr program .

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: 


Suzanne Fallender said...

Hi Elaine,

Nice post (and not just because of the ice cream reference). I think this embeddness topic is increasingly important for us as CSR practitioners as it gets to the point of culture change and improved decision-making. But it really is the heavy lifting in the maturity cycle of CSR within an organization and one that takes years and continued internal influencing and reinforcement. Two things I wanted to share on how we're working to continue to embed CSR at Intel - first is the move to link compensation to sustainability metrics and second is an example of how one of our business groups is taking steps to embed these concepts specifically within their own biz group. Suzanne

Lavinia said...


Excellent post. I have a question, within the embedding process how would you describe external responsibility across sectors influenced by the internal csr change.

I am struggling to find away to ask this question more effectively so if we need to chat about it, I am happy to engage in talking about what I mean at more length relative to your post.

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