CSR Europe has launched its website toolbox on different aspects of
corporate social responsibility. It is a huge resource for companies
seeking information, standards, policies and practices in a number of
key areas of responsible business practice.
The content is the outcome of a series of CSR "laboratories" that were carried out by different working groups of companies and other organisations on a series of different issues. The projects were meant to "explore innovative models of business-stakeholder co-operation and produce practical tools for tackling CSR challenges".
The content of the toolbox is grouped under five themes which cover business models, communication, sustainable practices, skills, and workplace issues.
So, for example, the section focusing on sustainable practices (headed 'Sustainable Production and Consumption - Treading Lightly') includes tools on eco-efficiency, a focus on the financial sector, and sustainable marketing. It gives information on best practices on the environment and mainstreaming CSR, and gives news updates on the same.
So, what constitutes a tool in this section? The one on eco-efficiency gives some key facts on current rates of energy efficiency, and provides an eco-efficiency "check-up programme" for small companies. This includes a database of indicators accessible via a partner website, Italian CSR membership organisation Sodalitas, what's called a 'Decalogue of eco-efficiency principles' and a link to 100 company solutions on environmental sustainability - small case studies of practice by companies across Europe.
The case studies themselves are good, outlining the problem and the solution, along with what constraints there might have been, and what the benefits from the action have been. These were mostly produced for CSR Europe's regular 'Marketplace' events and, so long as you can find what you want (see comment below) they are good starting points.
Unfortunately, not everything has been fully worked through. The link for the database of indicators goes to the Sodalitas website which, first of all, asks you if you want to complete a survey (I think - it's in Italian). If you say 'no', you go to the front page of the Sodalitas site which seems to have no English or other non-Italian version. Identifying one panel that looks like the tool, it leads to a page that is obviously talking about the tool, but provides no further links. Whoops. You've just lost your potential small companies in one go.
The case studies link brings a search list of 124 case studies - a great quantity of stories - but with a list that long you really want to be able to sort by issue, or type of activity. The list only gives you the ability to sort by title or by organisation name - if I am a CSR manager looking for examples of waste minimisation, I would have to plough through all 124 case studies to find what I wanted.
The frustrating thing is that, if the visitor knows to go instead to the case studies home, they can filter case studies at least under broad headings of issues, or geographical location, or by keyword - a facility which is not obvious if you follow the link from the toolbox. That must surely be an easy one to fix.
So, if there are one or two teething problems there, how about some of the other areas? The section titled "(R)Evolutionary Business Models" includes as one of its key issues supply chain management. If you click on the link for 'responsible supply chain management' under the 'CSR tools' list, you get taken to a login screen which I think it's unlikely you're meant to be taken to. If, however, you click on the link of the same name in the left hand margin, you get to a further interim page which gives you access to http://www.csr-supplychain.org.
This site is one of the real gems of the new content - with lots of information on key topics (issues), good practice, reference materials, relevant standards (there are lots) and other information, including a sectoral breakdown.
You could spend a lot of time here, and the information on standards particularly does a useful job in providing a brief summary, information on who produced it and when, and a link to the original source.
The website inherits some of the teething problems, however. You are both invited to 'engage' (download a Word document to write your comments onto) and 'Contact' (fill in a web form) - why both? There are only a small number of 'good practices', two out of three from site sponsors. And clicking on any of the 'sectors' links brings up a broken page with "PHP Error" messages all over it.
These were just two strands - there are plenty of others. The one on communication has an excellent guide for companies on proactive stakeholder engagement, for instance.
Practitioners and serious students of CSR should certainly acquaint themselves with the toolbox, and identify the most useful resources within it that are relevant and helpful.
The key challenge for CSR Europe is to ensure that the toolbox launch is the beginning of a continually improving information resource, not a one-off publication that is now there, and will simply hang around until it is out of date. The site implementation needs a lot of improvement to make the really good content accessible, and the language could be simpler. For instance, I have been speaking English all my life (and don't think I'm particularly stupid) but I had to look up what a decalogue was. Why not just call it the "ten key points" or "dos and don'ts"?
Did the 'laboratories' fulfil their purpose? Yes, and no. They have certainly gone a long way, at least some of them, towards producing the practical tools. They have probably not so much delivered innovation. That shouldn't be a surprise. The innovation generally comes from companies trying things out in their own marketplace with their own audiences. What the projects have done, however, is to distill some of the learning that has come from that activity.
It's not there yet, and has some way to go. But with consideration, planning and gradual addition, this could be the foundation for the most impressive web-based CSR resource out there.
An Article from Business
Respect, Issue Number 142, dated 8 Dec 2008
By Mallen Baker