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CSR "Do's"

I recently published a blog article describing some CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) "don'ts". The news is not all bad on the CSR front and this time out, I'll talk about some good examples of CSR practices. The focus shifts from the steel making industry to the forestry industry and from Hamilton Ontario, Canada to British Columbia, Canada. The forestry industry has operated under close scrutiny from a number of organizations representing a number of community based stakeholders.

The forestry industry was blissfully ignorant of the negative impact that angry stakeholders could have on their business until the late '90s when organizations such as the Sierra Club and Green Peace began to make their impression on public opinion. The forestry industry had been battling native bands in the area for the rights to log for decades. This added an extra degree of complexity to the situation for forestry companies because logging is a provincial responsibility and Indian affairs is a federal responsibility. Indian bands attempted to deny forestry companies access to forests based on their claims to the land and their claims that even when they had no claim, they claimed responsibility for preserving the forests devolved to them. Forestry companies generally reacted by continuing the logging practices they had used for years, including "clear cutting" forests. Clear cutting harvests almost all the trees for the area.

Protests by groups such as the Sierra Club caused the industry to dig in their heels initially. The Sierra Club is very skilled at drawing public attention to activities it wishes to discourage. It has years of practice with successful campaigns such as the one that succeeded in halting plans for 2 dams that would have flooded portions of the Grand Canyon. The BC chapter of the club brought the same organizational expertise to bear on the forestry industry. The Club, along with Greenpeace and other organizations organized international boycotts of the forestry industry. Those boycotts and other actions succeeded in getting the industry's attention.

Things began to turn around, beginning with an agreement reached in April 2001 between 4 environmental groups (including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace), 8 first nations bands, 6 forestry companies, and the provincial government which protects millions acres of forest in the coastal region of BC. The exact extent of the area under protection seems to vary depending on the source, which goes to show that even when a solution acceptable to all stakeholders has been identified, agreements seldom last long. The agreement reached amongst these stakeholders was held up as an example of what can be accomplished when companies work with stakeholders to find a solution to a problem which satisfies the community and corporations doing business in that community. The agreement was made even more difficult by virtue of the number of companies which had to be included in the agreement. Two of the first nations bands involved in the agreement received the Land Award for their part in reaching the agreement.

So why did CSR succeed in the BC forests but not in the Hamilton steel mills? This answer has to do with the stakeholders each was dealing with and their approach to those stakeholders. The forestry companies were dealing with stakeholders which could bring international attention to their cause. Not only can organizations such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace attract attention, they are also capable of harming profits with boycotts of the company's products. This "perfect storm" of stakeholder interest provided the companies involved with a great incentive for reaching an agreement which preserved CSR goals and objectives while allowing the companies to engage in their business and make a profit. What follows is my take on the CSR "Do's" that succeeded in this situation.

"Do" look for the "win win" solution to sticky CSR problems. The forestry industry companies, first nation bands, provincial governments, and environmental groups all demonstrated a willingness to give something up in order to gain the agreement.

"Do" look for ways of bringing all the stakeholders together so that the process of agreeing is simplified. What made the Great Bear Forest agreement possible was the active participation of all the stakeholder groups in thrashing out a solution. This required to everyone communicated to everyone else. No matter how willing, a company attempting to pursue a CSR policy by dealing separately with 2 different stakeholder groups will be frustrated by differences between the groups.

"Do" look for common ground. This "do" is aimed at community stakeholders rather than corporations. Groups representing differing community interests must be prepared to reach an accommodation with the groups they compete with. Intransigence when dealing with a rival group makes reaching any agreement impossible. Corporations will frequently take the course of least resistance when faced with this kind of situation. I can't please everyone so I might as well please myself.

"Do" be prepared to take the strategic view. Implementing a CSR policy which is acceptable to the community stakeholders you are dealing with may require you to make short term sacrifices in return for long term gains. The Hershey company is a great example of a company who took the long term view. Adopting a CSR policy (even though the term had not been coined yet) in Pennsylvania rewarded the company with thousands of good will ambassadors, to the extent that they named a town after the company founder. The name also happens to be the company name.

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