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
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.