CSR vs. Sustainability

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How is sustainability better than CSR?

Ioana Tetelea is the Managing Partner of Invisible Nature, a consultancy firm based in Bucharest, Romania, that offers innovative and integrated solutions in the field of corporate sustainability, nature conservation and environmental communication. Invisible Nature’s mission is to create system change for a sustainable future and, at the same time, make the role of nature visible in society, organizations and in people’s lives.

With a bachelor’s degree in communication and public relations from the University of Bucharest and a master’s degree in sustainable development from the University of Exeter, Ioana has 10 years’ experience in the field of corporate sustainability and environmental communication. Before becoming a consultant, Ioana worked 6 years for the international environmental NGO WWF in Romania. 

Difference between CSR and Sustainability

The difference between CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and Sustainability lies in the vision, purpose and power for change behind each term. The problem with the term CSR is that in some countries it is used for philanthropy-cause related marketing, PR or for initiatives divorced from the core business objectives.

CSR has also been used by companies as a tool to do good by supporting or investing in different causes that would create a good reputation. There is good CSR too and there are companies that have used CSR for transformative purpose.

The concept of sustainability offers us a more holistic and ambitious management approach regarding the economic, environmental and social aspects and principles that have to become part of the way a company does business.

Ioana Tetelea for Sustainable : The Podcast Episode 32

Role of HR in Building a Sustainable Company

Working with Romanian companies on sustainability for the last 9 years, Ioana has noticed that sustainability is rarely integrated into HR operations. The HR departments are not involved in the planning of initiatives or strategies related to sustainability.

It is a topic at international level, how HR can support the planning and implementation of sustainability, but it is not the same scenario in Romania.

The connection between HR and sustainability has been overlooked. If a company is trying to make sustainability a part of core business, they cannot overlook human resources.

Sustainability is a process of change in which a company’s strategies, activities, systems and organisational culture are re-shaped. HR is an agent of change that can help create the systems that are necessary for advancing sustainability in the company.

It is important that the HR department and the HR managers understand that they have a key-role in integrating sustainability into core HR operations. For example by:

– recruiting people that have the right skills
– making sustainability part of the performance appraisals and incentive schemes
– finding out what motivates employees to work on sustainability
– creating employee engagement programs
– making sustainability part of training and leadership programs

The change should start from the top management of an organisation.

Impact on Daily Life

Ioana recycles, saves energy and buys as much as possible local products. She buys ecological products for cleaning. She avoids plastic by using water filter and her own shopping bag when doing the groceries.

Nature Memory

Ioana’s favourite nature memory is of time spent at her grandparents’ house, in a mountain region, during her childhood. The forest was just a few metres from the doorstep. Ioana spent a lot of time in the forest, walking, picking forest fruit, mushrooms and herbal plants of the seasons.

She would collect resin from the bark of trees, imagining that it was a precious resource she could sell. The forest was like a playground and nature was an important part of her childhood. It was one of the reasons that she was a very happy child.

In later years, the experience of seeing her favourite childhood forest getting changed due to human activity, like uncontrolled logging, woke up the environmentalist in Ioana.

It made her learn more about environment protection and sustainability in general. Her connection with nature in childhood influenced the choices she made in her adult life.

Takeaway from this Episode

There is no shortcut or easy way to build up a sustainable company or organisation. It is a challenging process, and requires change and having the right people on board. However, once started, the benefits will come.

The satisfaction of creating a business for the future, a business that takes care of our planet and it’s people are other benefits of a sustainable business.

Ioana most admires

People who show leadership and get out of their comfort zone for a greater purpose.

Ray Anderson, Founder of Interface – for transforming the business, and making Interface one of the most sustainable companies.

Oprah Winfrey – for using her fame to educate people on spirituality and well-being.

Leonardo Di Caprio – for endorsing the cause of climate change by launching his documentary about climate change.

Ioana’s Favourite Resources

Advancing Sustainability: HR’s Role – Society for Human Resource Management

Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line: How Companies Can Leverage Human Resources to Achieve Sustainable Growth by Andrew W. Savitz and Karl Weber

Global Reporting Initiative

Invisible Nature

People mentioned in the interview:

Joe Confino, Executive editor of the Huffington Post and former Editor and Director of Guardian Sustainable business – mentioned because of his comment in a sustainability conference in Romania – He said, we should learn from the experience of the more developed countries, such as the UK, that along the years went from corporate social responsibility to corporate responsibility and then finally to sustainability. Other countries can skip the steps and focus directly on sustainability

David Watt, Executive Director of the Institute of Directors – mentioned for his comment on how directors have a legal obligation to keep a company going, and sustainability is the way to move forward with that. (links to the podcast blog page of Episode 20)

Most companies overlook the most important part in creating a responsible company – the part that has to do with creating a good business by embedding sustainability in the DNA of the company.Ioana Tetelea
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