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Corporate social responsibility has been a buzzword for both companies and consumers. A company that is socially responsible is devoted to giving back to the community or controlling its emissions. It requires companies to devote resources to achieving this goal. Yet most responsibility initiatives have been limited to a specific budget allocation, and in the economic downturn, companies have decreased these budgets, along with their donations to charities.

This change may seem like just another negative fallout from the economic crisis, but it might be something else: Companies are shifting their focus, and their limited resources, to the goal of corporate sustainability rather than corporate responsibility. Rather than a single department devoted to “responsibility,” these companies incorporate sustainability into their missions and undertake company-wide efforts. In a similar sense, everyone at Google is responsible for innovation, and thus, the company is one of the most innovative in the world.

For one company, the strategic choice to become environmentally sustainable, in line with global trends, achieved benefits almost immediately. Marks & Spencer, the U.K. retailer, may have been a latecomer to sustainability initiatives, but it spent $323 million over five years and then claimed, just two years into the initiative, that its investment had already paid for itself. The company not only saves on its energy costs but also appeals to customers.

Another stakeholder group that benefits from corporate sustainability efforts is employees, who are more engaged when they work for a company that expresses sustainability goals. These employees believe they are part of something bigger than just their cubicle. For example, at Coca-Cola, employees listed corporate social responsibility as the second strongest driver of their engagement.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the difference between corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability?

2. What other companies have adopted corporate sustainability?

Julian Evans, “Good Intentions,” The Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2010.