Is CSR Communication Dead?


I had a pleasure to run a two-day training on responsible communication and marketing at Aalto PRO in Helsinki. We planned and facilitated the workshop together with Maria Joutsenvirta, the most brilliant and creative coach and researcher. The training was one of the five modules in Aalto PRO’s program Diploma in Responsible Business and Environmental Management, which will be run again in 2017.

We kicked off the training by asking whether CSR communication was already dead. In the past, in 1980s, companies were warned of greenwashing: do the good thing first, and only then, tell about it. Do not exaggerate, do not promise much. Today, the same is valid, of course. However, the criteria for the credibility of deeds have changed significantly since the early days of environmental communication. Stakeholders expect companies to develop and offer solutions to environmental and social problems we currently face in the world. The impact is the key: do the company’s CSR programs and actions have a positive societal dimension?

So, the answer to the question of credible CSR communication might not be found in the communication as such, but in the way the company positions itself in relation to the communities and societies it operates in and with. We might need to redefine the essence of a company, of a business unit; the way we define profitability.

Apart from cases like B Corporations and Patagonia, we had an opportunity to discuss ”a real life case” during the training, as Liisa Eerola, Director, Confectionery Communications and Group Partnerships at Fazer, presented to us Fazer’s program 125 Opportunities for Working Life. The program was launched in SuomiAreena festival week in July this year, got positive feedback in the traditional media but very critical, even hostile, in social media. It was of great interest to learn about Fazer’s crisis communication plans and operations; things that they had been prepared for, but also about those aspects they hadn’t anticipated.

But again, the program is a deed. It is driven by the values of Fazer, and based on the company’s willingness to be an active societal actor. Whether the deed is sufficient or good, cannot be measured by media feedback but by the impact: will the target groups – young people, immigrants, long-term unemployed and people with reduced functional ability – benefit from it? What was and is the change that Fazer with its partners can make?