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