CSR: A tool for social change and corporate sustainability

“The companies that perform best over time build a social purpose into their operations that is as important as their economic purpose” – Havard Business Review, 2011.

Corporate social responsibility commonly known as CSR has been defined by
Investopedia as a corporation’s initiative to assess and take responsibility for the
company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing. Contrary to common
practice, CSR is beyond a set of one-off social initiatives. When corporate social
responsibility is embedded with core business activities, a company can pass as a
socially responsible business.

Corporate sustainability on the other hand is a company’s delivery of long term
value in financial, environmental, social and ethical terms. It is safe to say that
there is a close link between corporate social responsibility and corporate
sustainability and in fact both should form a whole systemic approach that is
above and beyond a discrete set of environmental and social initiatives.

According to Paul Klein, a contributor at the Forbes CSR Blog, social change is
not the responsibility of business, it is the result of business. What this simply
means is that business operations should bring about social change. Going further,
this statement buttresses the point that a socially responsible business would carry
out its activities in manners that will drive positive social change. It’s not like
doing business as usual and just setting aside some money to fund initiatives so
as to be seen as a company that is “giving back” to society.

How can leading corporations drive impactful social change in Nigeria?
In Nigeria, unemployment, poverty, poor health management, insecurity, and
environmental degradation are some of the social challenges being faced by the
people. It is up to government and businesses to drive changes that would bring
sustainable solutions to these challenges. To be posited to drive social change is
to be a socially responsible business and this can be carried out in the following
ways.

Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals address a wide range of
social and environmental issues. They can be used as a framework for
corporations to identify with social responsibility and sustainable development.
The first step is to classify the goals and identify where a company fits in. In other
words, a company would have to identify which goals intersect with its activities.
Using a company in the downstream oil and gas sector, whose activities include
processing crude oil into finished goods like asphalt, lubricants, synthetic rubber,
pesticides, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, antifreeze and plastics, its activities can be
set to revolve around addressing clean water & sanitation, responsible
consumption & production and life below water. The reasons why these particular
SDGs come to mind are highlighted below;

  1. The activities involved in processing crude oil to the above listed finished
    products include transportation through waterways which carries a risk of
    spillage and pollution. Spillage and pollution double as social and
    environmental issues. Taking measures to prevent the occurrence of oil
    spillage would save the company money and prevent pollution that could
    have resulted.
  2. The plastic bottles used in packaging lubricants are single-use plastics.
    They are recyclable but not commonly recycled as a result of limited
    retrieval from post-consumers. Improper disposal of waste oil alongside
    the plastic bottles pose a threat to public health. It can lead to shortage of
    potable water. Plastic containers that end up in drainage, streets would
    contribute to flooding and water-related illnesses. Adopting a buy-back
    system for recyclable plastic bottles would reduce the pressure on fresh
    raw materials and also create another source of income for post-consumers.

Partnerships with Social Entrepreneurs
Partnerships with social entrepreneurs that address some social issues that
intersect with a company’s activities could project corporate social responsibility.
This would be beyond using their services or providing them with some
amenities. An example would be downstream oil and gas retail outlets offering
recycling services. This could be done in partnership with already established
incentive-based recycling firms that need to scale up. Waste oil and their plastic
containers can be retrieved from post-consumers at retail outlets that would have
mini recycling hubs attached to them. This would address two things;

  1. The insufficient recyclable collection points across the country as there
    would be more than enough in most communities.
  2. The incentive-based approach would help the inhabitants of some lowincome
    communities afford basic needs by just keeping their environment
    clean which would in turn improve their environmental health and
    wellbeing.

Adopting underserved infrastructures
Another way of projecting social responsibility would be to adopt underserved
infrastructures such as a primary health care centre that lacks most amenities to
cater to many health issues. The company could provide facilities that are lacking
such that its staff are comfortable using the health centre instead of an expensive
privately-owned hospital. This would take care of two things;

  1. The community where that hospital is located would appreciate such a
    gesture as access to basic healthcare is one of the social issues we have in
    Nigeria.
  2. The internal and external social image of the company would be positive
    as employee welfare is seen to be taken seriously as well as that of the host
    community.

Conclusion
Socially responsible business processes can bring about financial gains. Art Peck,
the CEO of GAP was quoted “Our sustainability investments are based on the
philosophy that we are all connected and the positive actions we take to improve
people’s lives and the planet are also essential to running a good business. When
the people who work for us work in safe, fair conditions, they are more productive
and help us create better products. When we lower greenhouse gases and reduce
waste, we contribute to an environment in which our business can thrive”.

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