As a professor of Business Responsibility and Sustainability, I have had my work cut out this term making the business case for CSR to students from a wide range of backgrounds. When some people hear the term CSR their eyes glaze over and they think, this isn’t for me, this can’t work in my country. We have too many other things to deal with first (poverty, corruption, lack of investment in basic infrastructure…). But CSR doesn’t have to be expensive and doesn’t have to be referred to as CSR.
There are other ways that business can be responsible and sustainable, these are ways in which one can do business that make sense from an economic, environmental and social point of view. One of these is the extent to which businesses cooperate.
Much has been said and written recently on building better societies that use less “stuff” and where people are happier and have more time because they have created mechanisms for sharing and bartering. These include time banks and LETS (Local Exchange Trading Schemes). Less has been written about how companies can engage similarly on cooperation, although see the Dean’s blog on the Common Good Economy. Perhaps there is a fear of confusing cooperation with communism or socialism, of taking the concept to a political level rather than merely to a practical economic level.
In reality businesses cooperate for a common good, their bottom line, in a variety of ways, whether it is through Joint Ventures, Partnerships, or code-sharing in the airline business. When businesses cooperate for the bottom line they are more than likely unwittingly benefiting the environment by not duplicating efforts (ie. resource use), whether they benefit society depends on other factors.
Cooperation can be good for business, by engaging in a little mutual back scratching. For example in the tourism sector, you phone up a hotel, it’s full and you are recommended a room at another inn. The favour is returned in due course. This is especially the case in small isolated communities. This author was engaged on a research project on Svalbard (or Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic) to assess the extent of cooperation between SMEs in the tourism sector. Cooperation leads to the economic sustainability of small businesses and certainly helps them to address environmental issues by sharing resources. For more on this project see http://www.arctic-alpine-resilience.net/ and watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwBoas8xWH4
Dr. Marina Curran, Professor at BSL