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Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s Not Just For the Private Sector Anymore!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Joe Jarret

Jarret septWhen confronted with the term “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) it is generally presumed that we are referring to the operation of a private sector entity in a manner that accounts for the social and environmental impact created by the entity or, business. CSR not only refers to an organization’s commitment to developing and integrating policies (most commonly in the form of social, environmental and economic sustainability)  into daily business operations, but to the self-reporting on progress made toward implementing such practices.

Presently, most of corporate America has taken to addressing issues affecting virtually every area of operations: governance and ethics; worker hiring, opportunity and training; responsible purchasing and supply chain policies, and energy and environmental impact. According to the not-for-profit organization As You Sow, early CSR reports often focused on philanthropy as a driver of CSR. That notion has been supplanted by a broad commitment to protecting and improving the lives of workers and the communities in which companies do business.

In an era of “why can’t government be run more like a business,” it should come as no surprise that younger job applicants are inquiring whether the public sector entity to which they are applying has its version of social responsibility policy or statement. During an international workshop on the role of government in social responsibility matters, independent sustainability consultant Paul Hohnen suggested that government endeavor to:

– Create an enabling environment.

– Raise awareness and stimulating public debate for challenges and issues.

– Promote CSR initiatives by endorsing or inviting business and wider community support.

– Formally recognize CSR initiatives.

– Develop CSR guidance documents.

– Build capacities for CSR in businesses, civil society and public authorities through trainings, Internet platforms, etc.

– Convene businesses and stakeholders as an extension of capacity-building.

– Mediate (i.e., active but neutral arbitration) interests (for example in tri-partite bodies) that can build on the convening role.

– Fund research and facilitating networking of researchers in the CSR context.

– Fund CSR initiatives.

– Engage in public-private partnerships.

– Develop tools for CSR management.

As you would imagine, the creation of a public sector CSR policy would most likely fall on the shoulders of the HR team. In our last column, we explored Generation Y employees, their values and expectations of prospective employers. It is not unusual for a Generation Y applicant to request a copy of your organization’s CSR. The lack of such a policy result in a diminished, qualified applicant pool. John Yuva, senior writer for Inside Supply Management ® makes this timely observation:

“Today, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an issue that affects not only industry but the consumer, as well. And its principles stretch beyond the boardroom and into the classrooms of schools and universities. As a generation that understood and participated in environmental efforts early in their lives, it’s not surprising that Generation Y’s passion is volunteerism and community involvement. While this means that the focus of CSR will not disappear along with baby boomers and Generation X, it does raise the bar for corporations to expand their efforts in CSR initiatives.”

According to Yuva, Carolyn A. Martin, Ph.D., a principal for RainmakerThinking, Inc., opined that Gen Y-ers seek to join organizations that are socially responsible. To meet that goal, young people are researching companies through networking and taking note of their environmental track record. “I believe the greening of America, sustainability and global warming will not only be major issues, but this generation’s civil rights movement,” says Martin. “They are also expecting organizations to have a code of ethics that is actually lived out, not just something that is worded beautifully.”

According to a report issued by Halina Ward, Director, Corporate Responsibility for Environment and Development, International Institute for Environment and Development, some of the ancillary benefits of a public sector CSR include their ability to help inspire new strategies to address gaps in public sector capacity. Further, a solid CSR can offer valuable insights for partnerships by creating synergies between the complementary skills of public, private and civil society actors to achieve public policy goals related to sustainable development. 


As Gen Y-ers continue to come onto the public sector employment scene, public entities may want to consider how that will answer the question, “Is your city/county/organization socially responsible?

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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