Often misinterpreted as the same, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability differ from each other in many ways. Differences at times are glaring but can be equally subtle as well.  However, it is important to note that not all CSRs are sustainable. CSRs are not sustainable if they do not fully address their purpose.

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Let’s look at some of the differences between sustainable CSR and other typical activities classed as CSR.

  • While both CSR and sustainability are focused on ecological and social good, the former typically is a retrospective initiative and the latter a progressive one. CSR activities in India and across the world are mostly aimed at compensating or giving something back to the society in return for the natural resources that companies tap and pollute to run their commercial operations.  Sustainable CSR is all about balancing consumption and supply to ensure that (re)sources do not dry out completely.
  • Setting up schools, hospitals and other infrastructure in areas that lack such facilities, is one of the most common CSR activities in India. Abandoned primary health care centers and unused schools/classrooms are still a common sight in many parts of the country. Infrastructure alone may not make a great difference. Ensuring that such facilities are also adequately funded and manned by qualified staff so that they continue to serve the people is a classic example of a sustainable CSR activity.

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  • Today CSR is more a matter of compliance, rather than a proactive inclination towards social and environmental betterment, which sustainability is really all about. Sustainable CSR activities are aimed at securing the future of society at large, continuing to prove beneficial for years to come. Activities must strive to balance consumption/demand of services and resources with availability, to make sure requirements are adequately addressed.
  • It is also worth noting that CSR activities themselves must be sustainable. Companies must duly discharge their social responsibilities without having to compromise on their business goals. CSR projects, especially those focused on sustainability, need strong financial backup and support of the organization for long-term
  • According to Harvard Academics Mark Kramer and Michael Porter, CSR initiatives tend to respond more to media, public relations, and other influencing factors, which may not be in line with the organization’s objectives, thus diluting their impact on both, society and company’s competitiveness. Sustainable CSR projects are focused on all stakeholders in the value chain – from partners and suppliers to the end-user.
  • Unlike regular CSR projects, Sustainable CSR activities typically involve grass root beneficiaries, to ensure that efforts are indeed directed at the right cause; however, the challenge is to make sure that local governance is not undermined.

There is ample scope for sustainable CSR activities in India, especially in Agriculture and Manufacturing sectors that rely on rapidly depleting natural resources. Teaming up with a reputed and capable CSR consultant such as Fiinovation can help you make CSR contributions more meaningful by investing funds in sustainable ventures.