Rhetoric and Realities
Edited by Regine Barth and Franziska Wolff
Chapter 1: Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Impact: Opening up the Arena
Regine Barth and Franziska Wolff INTRODUCTION 1.1 In the past years, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gained much attention, both academic and political. While the idea that companies contribute to societal welfare beyond their legal obligations has a longer tradition in the Anglo-Saxon countries and especially in the US, it is less practiced in continental Europe. There, many social and environmental responsibilities of corporations are defined legally which are voluntary elsewhere. In the context of the sustainability debate, the CSR concept has become more prevalent globally: the enormous challenge of ‘satisf[ying] the needs of the present generation without compromising the chance for future generations to satisfy theirs’ (Brundtland Commission 1987) cannot be dealt with by governments alone. It requires all possible contributions by all societal players. Against this backdrop, the acid test of CSR is the degree to which companies’ voluntary social and environmental efforts are in fact effective in contributing to sustainable development. This is the subject of the book at hand: What sustainability impact is achieved through CSR? Is it rhetoric or reality? Do companies that acknowledge social and environmental responsibility sufficiently change their operations and daily practices? And do these changes in corporate practice lead to substantive social and environmental benefits outside the company? To what extent do voluntary business activities hence contribute to the achievement of sustainability goals set by policy makers? These are the questions that we have discussed for a number of European business sectors and for selected sustainability issues....
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