Is CSR dead?

Last week saw us join forces with industry heavyweights to discuss the future of CSR at our virtual webinar. Culture Consultancy’s Jo Geraghty accompanied Nadia Al Yafai from Royal London, Emma Cooke of Herbert Smith Freehills and CSR maestro Marcus Jamieson-Pond who chaired the session.

You can watch the full 1-hour panel discussion below or read on for a roundup of the highlights.


now is the time for businesses to embrace CSR 


Marcus opened our session with a brief history of CSR, covering the Victorian model villages of Saltaire and Bournville, the first of their kind to consider the living conditions of their workers, through to Milton Freedman’s 1970 article which suggested businesses sole purpose should be profit and social responsibility fell entirely to the public sector.

He posed the question: have we come full circle, is CSR so pervasive and entrenched within business that it is now no longer needed as a standalone entity?… Is CSR dead?


We polled our audience and discovered overwhelmingly that 91% believed CSR was in fact not dead. Our expert panellists went on to discuss this, covering topics such as the terminology used to describe CSR, how we can measure impact and where the responsibility of CSR should sit in a modern business.


confusing terminology and the difference between ESG and CSR


All our panellists agreed that terminology to describe the function (even their own job titles) was confused. The consensus was that ESG focussed more on risk and investment even though it has grown and seeped into other areas of business. However, CSR didn’t necessarily cover the breadth of the task businesses are facing, particularly when it comes to measuring impact.

That said Jo’s experience of working with clients across various industries as seen a shift towards looking as ESG alongside culture and business strategy. CSR can therefore be considered the engine that makes that happen.

A sector-wide study could help to better define what we mean by CSR in a modern workplace and suggest alternative terms.

Nadia did, however, advise “terminology used depends on the maturity of the business. It’s our job to convince the business to future-proof a title and give it space to grow as you demonstrate value.”


embedding CSR 



We spoke a lot about how to fully embed CSR within a business. It was agreed that purpose-driven cultures and business strategy needed to align. Nadia commented that “if you can crack the right focus areas make them meaningful for your business and help your people on that long term journey to understand how every single person’s job contributes, that then drives culture, change and purpose”.

Emma suggested a number of frameworks from B-Corp to Global Reporting Initiative were helpful to focus teams: “Leaders should choose a framework to align with then decide what is material to their business by considering the views of all stakeholders. Then you can begin to think about accountability and how to embed it across the businesses. Finally measure and report on it”.

Nadia went on to explain how she is currently looking at purpose and societal value as a commercial driver within Royal London. She suggests this is critical to gain internal buy-in as you can show true impact and value, but it can also then be seen as an avenue for innovation.


who is responsible for CSR?


“Embedding CSR starts with leadership. Hire conscious, purposeful, ethical leaders and equip them with the right skills. You want your people to share your values before they walk through the door. It is hard to get people to change their values so better to hire those who already share yours”- Jo Geraghty

CSR has traditionally been thought of as a bolt-on to business, but it is increasingly being embedded and taking a seat at the top table. This is in part driven by a younger, more demanding workforce and consumer pressure.

It was agreed that while CSR needs to be everyone’s job, it is the task of the leadership to drive the agenda – the days of paying lip service are long gone.

“Induct your board members to enable them to drive change” – Nadia Al Yafai

CSR professionals still have a huge role to play, however, in helping businesses and their leaders attack the agenda at pace, so shouldn’t be forgotten.


measuring the impact of CSR 


“No matter your focus, acknowledge CSR has changed. It has moved from being activity, hours spent, or cash given – this is no longer a good enough measurement. Instead, everything must now be impact focussed. To do this you must be more strategic to demonstrate how you are moving the needle” – Jo Geraghty

The panel agreed that there is now a shift in the market to move from measuring activity and output to the positive impact a business has. This can only be done by being strategic in your approach and focussing on ‘longer termism’.


Nadia went on to discuss how limiting your CSR focus areas to just one or two across the whole business can not only drive important conversations, but also aid the measurement of success and impact.


the future of CSR 


Our panellists finished the session by future-gazing to give us insight into what they see on the horizon.

  1. Aligning culture and CSR. There will continue to be a shift in businesses aligning their purpose-led culture vision and values with their business strategy. They must become one in the same thing to fully embed CSR.
  2. A common framework. Emma hopes a common framework will allow businesses to measure and compare what success looks like.
  3. There is a need to make sure climate and social impact are equal. It is the role of the CSR professional to keep balance and let the conversation just go one way.
  4. Greater governance and regulation. More red tape and hard law is likely to be coming down the line, so businesses are best to get their house in order ahead of that.


Whether you joined us on the day or are reading this in retrospect, we hope you enjoyed the session. We will be releasing a whitepaper on the topic in the coming weeks – sign up now to be amongst the first to receive it by getting in touch: