Sustainability and responsibility are two high-profile buzz-words today. They are often transposed with corporate social responsibility (CSR) and yet they all mean different things: there are numerous examples of sustainable businesses that are not responsible, and vice versa.

Sustainability is most often defined as that in the Brundtland Report of 1987: “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.

Corporate social responsibility has a much wider variety of definitions, but BenchMarks defines it as “the decision-making and implementation process that guides all company activities in the protection and promotion of international human rights, labour and environmental standards and compliance with legal requirements within its operations and in its relations to the societies and communities where it operates. CSR involves a commitment to contribute to the economic, environmental and social sustainability of communities through the on-going engagement of stakeholders, the active participation of communities impacted by company activities and the public reporting of company policies and performance in the economic, environmental and social arenas”.

We believe that responsibility should include a much wider array of responsibilities beyond the purely social ones; such as corporate governance, product safety, anti-money laundering, environmental and supply chain responsibilities. To be responsible a business must not only deal with, but be seen to be dealing with, all forms of non-financial risks.

There is an inherent tension between sustainability and responsibility, between the needs of survival now and sustainability later. This is a tension that the whole of society is getting to grips with, in a variety of different ways, but the one thing sustainability and responsibility absolutely have in common is they have to both fit and be accepted within the culture that is implementing them they cannot be imposed with any success.
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