Companies can choose from many levels of commitment and strategic approaches in their corporate sustainability and responsibility (CSR) endeavors. Below, we draw on Professor Wayne Visser’s five-stage model of CSR to show these different approaches. The Ages of CSR correspond to dominant paradigms within progressive periods of economic history, moving temporally from greed to the emerging era of responsibility. The stages are characterizations of approaches to CSR. Stages tend to correspond with the ages, though organizations can be engaged in activities representative of multiple ages and stages at once. This framework imposes values of higher and lower levels of commitment, with responsibility being the most pioneering and greed representing the status quo thinking for many businesses.
We offer this framework as food for thought that invites us all to consider pushing the envelope in our approaches to become ever bolder and more pioneering in our companies’ efforts to help build a better future.
DEFENSIVE CSR, if any, is compliance based. These are companies still subscribing to an older business logic of bigger is better, greed is good, gains are privatized, and costs are socialized (i.e., externalized).
- This category includes companies that have not yet taken any action beyond compliance toward corporate environmental or social responsibility.
- The logic for these organizations usually presumes the primary relevant responsibility is a fiscal one to company shareholders.
- The greed mentality has the power to mobilize action quickly and on massive scales, particularly when profitability is at stake. When it suits the bottom line, CSR actions, such as energy efficiency, are championed.
- Legal compliance mandates that all companies take certain environmental and social actions, such as those regulated by the Clean Air Act (CAA). This is a reminder that national policy can be an incredibly effective lever for mobilizing broader-scale CSR.
The 5 stages above are drawn from Wayne Visser’s 2011 book The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business. Special thanks to Wayne for supporting our infographic and training-focused rendition of his model. You can learn more at http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility.