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By David Berger
The turn of the 21st century was marked by several major corporate scandals in North America.
Familiar company names such as Enron, Arthur Anderson, Global Crossing, Tyco and Worldcom regularly made headlines as the rest of us pondered what it must mean to the average person on the street. There was talk in media circles that the roots of the problems were poor governance, lack of business ethics, and the simple greed of a few executives who could wield a lot of power. But perhaps this oversimplifies and distorts the real issues. A bigger problem is determining the responsibility a given organization owes to its stakeholders, including customers and suppliers, shareholders and employees, government and the community.
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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a growing phenomenon worldwide that’s trying to change the role and nature of corporations. CSR deals with the thorny issues around a corporation’s responsibility to society, and how it relates to the company’s traditional commitment to maximize shareholder profits. Although CSR preceded the recent scandals, certainly the media attention surrounding corporate misbehavior accelerated development of CSR to unprecedented levels.
Organizations and industries of all sizes find it necessary and desirable to consider corporate social responsibility in strategic decision-making processes. In some companies, this has had a profound effect from the shop floor to the executive suite. Not surprisingly, the maintenance department has potential to be a leader in implementing initiatives that align with CSR-related goals and objectives, including improved safety on the job, waste reduction, improved energy management, selection of vendors that can supply “CSR approved” parts, increased employee diversity, alternative working arrangements, and balancing work and lifestyle.
So, what exactly is corporate social responsibility? Unfortunately, there’s no universal definition, although there are common threads. Several organizations carry a CSR body of knowledge, including best practices, case studies, and even the capability to conduct objective social audits. The following are sample definitions from three of the growing number of organizations that are well-respected proponents of CSR.
Corporate social responsibility is, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life.
CSR is defined as operating a business in a manner that meets or exceeds the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society has of business, says Business for Social Responsibility.
Corporate social responsibility is essentially a concept whereby companies decide voluntarily to contribute to a better society and a cleaner environment, is how it’s phrased in the European Green Paper “Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility.”
These rather general definitions leave it open for the maintenance department to interpret how best to make a contribution in light of a company’s desire to become more socially responsible. However, it’s important to note that most corporate executives still insist that social responsibility shouldn’t come at the expense of profits. Fortunately, CSR and profit drivers need not be mutually exclusive issues for maintenance or any other department. Nonetheless, the business case for “doing the right thing” from a CSR perspective can be elusive. This is because savings are expressed typically as long-term cost avoidance, as opposed to the usual short-term cost reductions most senior executives prefer. Consider the ways the maintenance departments around the globe are trying to make a difference in the area of corporate social responsibility.
First and foremost in implementing a CSR program for the maintenance function is building awareness of CSR, explaining why it’s important and showing how individuals can contribute. There are several approaches to achieve this end.
Classroom and on-the-job training is one way to convert CSR to attitudinal and behavioral change on the shop floor. This might include learning tools such as visiting CSR-savvy companies, bringing in guest speakers, conducting training in classrooms and on the shop floor, and attending external courses and conferences.
Maintenance procedures can support the CSR program by addressing proper waste disposal, reworking repair procedures to minimize safety risks and making equipment adjustments to minimize environmental impact.
Regular communications can reinforce positive CSR results through regular supervisory meetings to review progress, distributing newsletter and reports that track savings and other benefits, and displaying motivational posters with supportive messages about the environment, energy management and safety.
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