Intel’s Corporate Responsibility Office has decided that going forward, we will not talk about CSR or corporate responsibility, but we will talk about CSVCSRESGSustainabilityValueChainGreenCitizenship. We figure that should roll off the tongue better and settle once and for all the ongoing churn we experience almost daily about what’s the “right” term we should use.

Ok, of course I’m kidding. But I’m sure I’m not alone in my frustration with the ongoing proliferation of acronyms and debate over terminology. Now, challenges around the constantly changing lexicon for sustainability and CSR are nothing new. In fact, at Intel we’ve opened presentations on our approach to corporate responsibility for the past decade with some slide or “wordle” that lists all of the different terms in use in the field, from CSR, to citizenship, to accountability, to sustainability, to SRI, to ESG, and now CSV – and then talk about the need to not get too caught up in terms and just explain our definition and strategy – basically that we use corporate responsibility as a management lens and strategic approach to drive both business and societal value.

But recently, we’ve seen more companies saying we “don’t want to do just CSR – we want to drive real business value instead” or “we should stop doing citizenship altogether and just do creating shared value.” This presumes that CSR is always something separate, and doesn’t create business value. And by business value, I mean much more than just creating new revenues – business value is of course also created when companies better manage risk, improve the efficiency of their operations, improve their trust with stakeholders and customers. Something that seems to get a little lost in the current discussions around CSV. (Also see John Elkington’s blog post and Michael Sadowski’s blog post)

I agree that words matter. Language matters. New concepts can drive change. But which one works for a particular company can differ from what works for another. Navigating the sea of terms can be difficult for many companies – so thought I would share a few thoughts on where one could start.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Some companies have long track records using certain terms and have had success engraining them into strategies and culture – whether that’s sustainability or CSR. To abruptly introduce a new term or multiple terms can create unnecessary confusion internally and even derail some of the progress that has already been made, or impede additional gains in executive buy-in and employee engagement. If the term you are using has gained credibility in your company – continue to use and nurture it, and be prepared to explain how it relates to other terms in use.

Know when you need to start over again. I’ve talked to some of my counterparts at other companies where their CSR department has been largely marginalized or their sustainability strategy is driven only by a few grassroots green teams with no executive-level buy-in. In this case, shifting to a new term or concept can be a very effective tool to jumpstart new strategic discussions with the company. I know a few companies that have done this recently using the concept of Creating Shared Value and are getting good traction.

Focus on what works in different groups. As companies work to further embed these concepts more deeply into their culture and across their different business groups – some of these terms and concepts can resonate better or worse with different groups. Although an overall umbrella term for the whole company can be very helpful in driving consistency and awareness, if an internal group has gravitated to a different term that is helping them achieve solid results, don’t be the acronym police. For example, our supply chain organizations at Intel have picked up the ESG term and ran with it in their internal training programs and communications with suppliers. Still fits under our overall umbrella of corporate responsibility – and this term is working for them and they are driving great results – so they should continue to use it.

Don’t throw the term out with the concept. Initially, when I saw the term Creating Shared Value (CSV), I have to say my initial response was complete frustration with a new acronym and the fact that it lumped all CSR into a bucket of not creating business value and seemed to dismiss the societal value of strategic philanthropy and the importance of giving back and doing your part to help. However, one important takeaway I got after meeting earlier this year with Michael Porter, FSG and others on the concept – is that even if you don’t take the step to rebrand your efforts under CSV – doesn’t mean that the concept and framework can’t be useful in guiding internal discussions with business groups and executives. But CSV needs responsibility, needs community commitment, and needs social investment as a foundation or it will fail.

Regardless of the terms used, the journey and end goal for many working in the field of CSVCSRESGSustainabilityValueChainGreenCitizenship today is often the same: to drive sustainable growth for our businesses and achieve the greatest social impact with our investments. The key will be how to continue to embed all of these concepts and terms so deeply into our businesses so that we don’t need any term at all.

One Response to CSVCSRESGSustainabilityValueChainGreenCitizenship

  1. Dave says:

    I know all these acronym folks are trying to help the cause, but they make our jobs a little more difficult each day. You’ve laid out some great tips here. Instead of looking outside for what works (HBR, MIT, UN, etc.), look inside your own walls and culture. The answer lies within :).