Why CSR is surviving the recession

UK firms don't seem to be using the downturn as an excuse to ditch their principles.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

We wouldn't be surprised if a few CSR policies have been quietly shelved in the last year. At a time when most companies are poring over their cost line, eagerly searching for some slack to cut, it must be tempting to conclude that CSR is an unaffordable luxury just at the moment. But the good news is that UK plc appears to be made of sterner stuff: according to a new survey by law firm Pinsent Masons, the vast majority of companies with a CSR programme intend to continue it during the recession. OK, so admittedly they would say that – but the research suggests that CSR is becoming a commercial imperative as much as an ethical one.

No fewer than 91% of the companies surveyed said they were planning to carry on their CSR efforts regardless, which is an impressive number if accurate. But as Pinsent Masons points out, this may be as much to do with self-interest as philanthropy. ‘Building a reputation as a responsible business can set you apart from your rivals,’ says CR Manager Kate Fergusson (presumably someone else looks after ‘S’). ‘Consumers and employees are increasingly looking to buy from and work for 'ethical' businesses.' She also argues that differentiation is more important than ever at the moment – and it’s certainly true that companies have to fight harder for business, albeit possibly against fewer competitors. In other words: CSR can be good for the bottom line.

The survey also contained a pleasant surprise for the environmental lobby: 84% of large companies (i.e. those with a turnover of more than £100m) remain committed to reducing their carbon footprint, despite the economic climate. Then again, the economics of this are a bit more obvious: using less energy saves money, as well as the planet. And reducing emissions is also getting easier thanks to improvements in technology: smart metering, for example, or in the case of company cars, more efficient engines. According to fleet management group LeasePlan, average CO2 emissions have fallen by 14% since 2005, despite a steady increase in mileage.

It wasn’t all good news: the survey also found that 42% of companies with carbon reduction plans had decided to ditch them until after the recession, demonstrating how much pressure (particularly smaller) companies are under. But it’s clear that some firms are sticking to their principles – and regardless of their reasons for doing it, that has to count as a good thing.

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