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March 01, 2006
Book Review--Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders in a Global Environment
    by Bill Baue

The book maps the landscape of CSR, advocates a strategic approach taking global stakeholders into account, and presents a wealth of case studies to illustrate its points.

One way of looking at corporate social responsibility (CSR) is as a set of questions, the answers to which are constantly evolving as the discipline continues to define itself. According to Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility (Sage Publications 2006), questions include: "Who defines the boundaries between private profits and public good?" and "Can the interests of firms, owners, and other stakeholders be aligned, or are they inherently in conflict?"

"Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility provides a framework within which readers can explore and answer these questions for themselves," state authors William Werther and David Chandler, both professors in the Center for Nonprofit Management at the University of Miami.

The book seeks to clarify confusion around CSR through a hands-on approach, providing resources (many of them Web-based in recognition of the transitory nature of the field) and provoking thought through a wealth of case studies.

"Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility goes a long way toward clearing away the fog," writes Mallen Baker, development director for Business in the Community (BITC) and editor of Business Respect, in the book's Foreword. "William Werther and David Chandler help us to realize that once you see CSR in terms of its strategic implications for the core business you realize that well-understood business principles apply."

Part I of the book (which is divided into three sections) provides a very clear and comprehensive overview of the CSR landscape, with the third chapter in this section advancing an in-depth explanation of the what the authors mean by "Strategic CSR." "Companies need to see CSR through a strategic lens," they posit, and then they illustrate their point by presenting the "E.S.C.S Framework," looking at CSR as it relates to environment, strategy, competencies, and structure.

"Competencies molded into strategy and supported by structure are no longer sufficient for success," Profs. Werther and Chandler state. "It is vital that firms also consider the societal and stakeholder implications of these aspects of their operations."

"The 'CSR filter' is a conceptual screen through which strategic and tactical decisions are evaluated for their impact on the firm's various stakeholders," they continue. "Here the intent is to take a viable strategy and make it optimal for the stakeholder environment in which the strategy must be executed."

Besides the "strategic" lens, the book also focuses extensively on the "stakeholder" lens, arguing that stakeholder needs and demands now play a defining role in corporate decision-making. The fourth chapter maps out how to implement CSR strategies that address the needs of the firm and the needs of its stakeholders, encompassing short-, medium-, and long-term goals.

Part II of the book presents the case studies, divided into four chapters--one looking at organizational stakeholders, the next looking at economic stakeholders, the next at societal stakeholders, and the last looking at "special cases in CSR."

"William Werther and David Chandler provide a valuable list of case studies that, unusually for these sorts of works, provides a real focus on those that did badly and those that have struggled against the odds, not just the (often self-proclaimed) examples of best practice," writes Mr. Baker in the Foreword.

Indeed, the case studies are the meat of the book, as they represent blueprints for success or failure. That said, the authors make clear that CSR is not formulaic, and present the case studies more to suggest ranges of strategic options than to prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions. For those coming to CSR from socially responsible investing (SRI), the middle of the chapter on economic issues is the focal point.

Case studies examine how Ford (ticker: F) addresses environmental sustainability, how Starbucks (SBUX) integrates fair trade, how Citigroup (C) adopted sustainable finance through pressure from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a nongovernmental organization (NGO). It also examines SRI and microlending.

The "snapshot" nature of these case studies represent both their strengths and their weaknesses, as they encapsulate complex dynamics in a very brief space but they also necessarily oversimplify this complexity in order to fit into this space. For example, the Ford case study applauds the company for issuing its first climate change report and for "greening" the roof of its River Rouge, Michigan plant by literally planting greenery on it, according to the design by renowned environmental architect Bill McDonough. However, the case study gives short shrift to the flack Ford has faced from environmentalists over the fact that it has the lowest fleet fuel efficiency of the major car manufacturers.

Each case study is followed by a set of resources, mostly Web-based. Again, these present both strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are the wide breadth of sources presented and the utility of presenting them all in one place. However, the organization names and web addresses are accompanied by what seems to be cut-and-pasted blurbs of the organization, bearing the fingerprints of a graduate research project. Perhaps it is too much to ask, but providing critical annotation and assessment of these resources would have been much more useful than simply reprinting their own self-trumpeting descriptions.


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