Building the Business Case

I have worked with many companies in the last few years, and almost all of them have benefited from a clearer articulation of the business case for CSR.  

Sometimes that has involved a re-framing of things that they already knew into a consistent narrative, but mostly it has involved measuring and managing CSR in new (or at least different) ways. It seems to me that companies that have a clear and regularly articulated business case for CSR do much better in terms of strategic influence of CSR and quality of CSR programmes.

That’s why I have started a business called ValueCSR, which will help companies to identify their cost savings and value created directly as a result of CSR strategies and activities. I think doing so is a game-changer. Here’s why:

Business Case for CSR – Who Cares?

boardroomFor Executives, it gives them confidence in their CR initiatives and teams, and helps them to make the case for CSR internally and externally.

For CSR Professionals, it gives them the ability to talk to and win over some of the most influential people within the business; people like the Chief Financial Officer, Head of Risk and Chief Operational Officer. It also allows them to support the CEO in delivering on strategic objectives. Once that is happening, they can also influence strategic direction. Framing conversations with things like NPV and ROI seems to make those conversations go much better.

In addition to internal stakeholders, the people who care about the business case are many and varied:

  • Investors
  • Markets
  • Moral Investors
  • Socially Responsible Investors
  • Customers
  • Brand Evaluators
  • Regulators

Of course they have a variety of reasons and ways of ‘caring’ about CSR, but all of them have an interest in understanding how CSR is good for business.

Business Case for CSR – Why it Matters

It matters because using CSR as a lens can help to reduce costs within a business. It can do that in virtually every area of a business, although one of the tricky things about the CSR business case is that it varies quite a lot from company to company. Even companies that are in the same sector will have different business cases that follow their strategy and operational drivers.

It matters because CSR can create value (including new revenue) within a business, and if that value isn’t being recorded and talked about then companies are underestimating the importance of CSR to their business.

Battle of Hearts and MindsIt matters because people who want to hear about CSR programmes listen with their head and their heart. Compelling narrative that appeals to the heart will be enough to win over some people, but others (such as the key internal players mentioned above) will need to be won over with numbers and hard, reliable data. Still others will only be convinced by both.

All of those things matter because they are fundamental for the sort of shift in business models that is required for business to thrive in the future. All of the leaders on CSR have significant business cases that they use internally, and some, like Marks & Spencer, have published their Business Case for Plan A.

Other companies like Unilever and InterFace Flor publish various metrics that show certain benefits from CSR without giving away the full business case.

Business Case for CSR resources

This site already has a few resources on the Business Case, but I wanted to do more in this area, and so ValueCSR’s new website has some additional free resources. The new resources include a Materiality Matrix spreadsheet that can help you to build and graph a CSR Materiality Matrix. Identifying materiality is pretty fundamental when it comes to the business case.

If it’s of interest, there are also a number of Building the Business Case Services that valueCSR offers.

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3 comments

  1. Kishore Kavadia says:

    Is Business Case possible only in FMCG Business or in areas like Mines & Metals Business, Cement Manufacture, Finance Business etc. Any links available? Regards

  2. I think it’s at least as useful in those industries as FMCG – perhaps more so!
    I don’t have links to hand, but I have seen a matrix from at least one company in all those industries.
    The new G4 requirement will mean that we will see many more published MMs, although many companies already have them for internal purposes.

  3. Arvind Sharma says:

    This article is superbly written. As a sustainability professional, I truly believes that there is a business case for it. It is just that Sustainability professionals have to learn to speak the CFO language to be able to articulate the same. I had faced a lot of difficulty before I could successfully sell it my clients. Traditionally, the mindset at client is that sustainability would mean extra cost and it is just a nice icing on cake which is used for only beautification. But often they forget that we buy the cake if icing is really attractive. We will buy it all the more if we knew that icing is completely organic and made from natural products and to top it all, we will buy it if it costs less given that it is sourced locally, young talent from community groups have done it, and the likes.

    I had worked with Cement, Oil & Gas, Automotive, Telecom companies and we have made sure we link sustainability performance with business and establish (not to worry if its even weak) connection with balance sheet.

    Kudos to the author and look forward to more such posts.

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