Social responsibility is when a person or organization takes action that will benefit others or society. That action can involve a simple gesture of kindness such as helping the elderly, or a grand gesture that involves moving to a third-world country to help the poor.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is another form of social responsibility that has been growing for several decades. Large companies realize there are many benefits to improving society and the environment.
Similarly, famous scholars such as John Dewey advocated that schools should instill a sense of social responsibility in their students.
Dewey (1899) wrote:
“When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious.” (p. 27-28).
The belief that you have an obligation to step in and help when you have the ability, without expectation of reciprocation, is called the social responsibility norm.
Everyday Social Responsibility Examples
- Donating blood: Bob donates blood every other month because he has type A-, which is quite rare.
- Recycling: The McDermotts are avid recyclers. It’s a family custom they have been practicing for years.
- Donating old clothes: Linda and her classmates have started a campaign at school to donate old clothes to various shelters in their city.
- Planting trees: Teenagers in this country plant trees on land that was once cleared for growing soy beans but is now abandoned.
- Mowing your neighbor’s lawn: Once a week, Stan mows the lawn of the elderly gentleman down the street.
- Picking up trash: The local Boy Scouts pick up trash along the beach every month and then sort it properly for recycling.
- Volunteering at animal shelter: Jenna volunteers at the local animal shelter for strays every Saturday.
- Working at a soup kitchen: Every Thanksgiving, the Garcia family work at a soup kitchen for the homeless.
- Helping out the poor: The Singh family help repair houses for people living in poverty on the outskirts of the city.
- International development: Every summer vacation Billy travels to a third-world country to help dig wells for the poor.
- Caring for the lonely: Jessie sees a kid in the schoolyard who doesn’t have anyone to eat lunch with, so she invites her to have lunch with her.
- Tithing: Many religious people give a tithe – which is 10% of their income – to their church in order to support the church’s mission.
- Volunteer firefighting: Many people choose to become volunteer firefighters to protect their community if a wildfire breaks out.
Corporate Social Responsibility Examples
Case Study #1: Lego and Sustainability
Corporations that make products contribute to a lot of environmental degradation. Factories emit pollutants into the air and waterways, plastics stay in the environment for centuries, and product packaging accumulates in landfills.
However, increasingly more companies are finding ways to alter their operations in ways that support sustainability.
For example, according to the Harvard Business School, Lego has made a substantial commitment to integrating sustainability practices into all facets of their operations.
Here are a few great examples of Lego’s commitment to the environment:
Lego has shrunk its boxes by 14 percent, which has saved 7,000 tons of cardboard.
In 2018, the company introduced 150 pieces made from sustainably sourced sugarcane instead of from petroleum-based plastic.
The company has also committed to investing $164 million into its Sustainable Materials Center.
Lego has stated:
“It’s our aim that by the end of 2025, all our packaging will be made from sustainably sourced materials that are either renewable, or made from recycled content and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.”
Case Study #2: Starbucks and Three Pillars
Starbucks is well-known for having a store on nearly every corner of a city, no matter where you live. With over 20,000 stores in 160 countries, they are one of the largest corporations in the world. From plastic straws to paper cups, the company generates a lot of waste.
However, the company is also a leader when it comes to corporate social responsibility. The CSR initiative of Starbucks rests upon three pillars: Community, Ethical Sourcing, and the Environment.
- Community: Starbucks establishes community stores that donate a percentage of sales to nearby charities. The company also hires youth from within the community as part of their overall commitment to inclusion and diversity.
- Ethical Sourcing: This pillar has to do with where the company purchases the materials it needs. Starbucks only purchases coffee, tea, cocoa and manufactured goods from farmers and suppliers that adhere to strict ethical standards of treating its employees fairly.
- Environment: The company is continuously expanding its plant-based menu options, and invests heavily in reforestation and regenerative agriculture.
Case Study #3: IKEA
IKEA is the largest furniture retailer in the world. That also means that it is the largest consumer of wood in the world. Fortunately, the company has initiated several programs to help reduce its impact on the environment.
- Turn Black Friday Green: Disposed furniture takes a huge toll on the environment by negatively impacting landfills. The company now works on finding ways to increase the durability of its products. In addition, this campaign promotes innovative ways that customers can repurpose their furniture instead of simply discarding it.
- Diversity and Inclusion Policy: The company has made a commitment to achieving a 50/50 gender split in top management by 2030. As of 2020, over 40% of top management positions were held by women.
- Supply Chain Compliance: Ensuring that employees throughout its supply chains are treated fairly is a fundamental component of IKEA’s CSR initiatives. The company regularly conducts audits and hires third-party organizations to ensure that all suppliers respect human rights.
Case Study #4: Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola is a massive company. Although mostly known for one beverage, the company actually has over 200 brands and sells nearly 2 billion servings a day. Being the largest seller of beverages also means having the largest impact on the environment.
The company has steadily been working towards several initiatives to alter its negative impact on the environment.
As a partner with Keep America Beautiful, Coca-Cola has donated over 1 million recycling bins across the U.S. They have also contributed over $17 million in grants to environmental organizations such as the Closed Loop Fund to expand recycling efforts and support educational programs.
The company is also making headway in the area of water stewardship. That strategy is focused on creating sustainable water security by replenishing watersheds and supporting community programs that improve access to clean water.
Case Study #5: Google
It takes a lot of energy to operate Google’s data centers. Those centers consume a lot of electricity, which takes a tremendous toll on the environment. The company has committed to lessening its impact on the environment and also has several other CSR initiatives.
For example, Google has invested over $3.5 billion in renewable energy projects worldwide.This initiative has paid off. Google has been able to match its energy consumption with renewable energy purchases for several years in a row.
In fact, although Google’s computing needs grow every year, their energy consumption has remained flat. The company delivers seven times as much computing power with nearly the same amount of electricity.
Google is also doing its part in the area of food sustainability. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of food grown in the U.S. is uneaten. One reason has to do with what is affectionately referred to as “ugly produce”.
Ugly produce has cosmetic flaws that supermarkets and restaurants refuse to buy. Even though the food is perfectly healthy and has no nutritional flaws, customers prefer to consume food that looks pretty.
However, “In 2015, Google cafés in the Bay Area saved 440,540 pounds of food from going to waste” (Recipe for sustainability, 2016).
Related Concept: Altruism and Examples
The era of globalization has also brought the era of accountability. Corporations today now must demonstrate a meaningful commitment to social responsibility.
Fortunately, increasingly more corporations are realizing that protecting the environment is not just good for business, but actually results in tangible benefits for society.
CSR comes in many forms. For example, corporations try to use renewable energy, engage in significant recycling efforts, invest in ways to create sustainable manufacturing, and work to ensure that their supply chain partners are in compliance with fundamental human rights.
While it is true that individuals can make a difference, the incredible scale of today’s corporations means they can make an impact that is truly game-changing.
Banerjee, S. B. (2006). Corporate social responsibility: The good, the bad and the ugly. Critical Sociology, 34, 51 – 79.
Carroll, A. B. (1999) Corporate social responsibility: Evolution of a definitional construct. Business & Society, 38, 268-295. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/000765039903800303
Davis, K. (1960, Spring). Can business afford to ignore social responsibilities? California Management Review, 2, 70-76.
Dewey, J. (1899). The School and Society. The University of Chicago Press; Chicago Illinois. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/schoolsociety00dewerich/page/n7/mode/2up
Recipe for sustainability: Why Google cafes love ugly produce. (2016, December). Retrieved from https://sustainability.google/progress/projects/rews/
Masanet, E., Shehabi, A., Lei, N., Smith, S., & Koomey, J. (2020, February 28). Recalibrating Global Data Center Energy-Use Estimates. Science, 637(6481). Retrieved from https://www.gwern.net/docs/cs/hardware/2020-masanet.pdf
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]