A business for good.

After CSR and ESG, what comes next?

Over the last year or two, but particularly in the last three months, I’ve had more and more conversations with business leaders about social and environmental impact, ethical business, and more broadly about “doing good”.

These are great conversations, and what’s even better is that it’s not me initiating them. They’re usually triggered by team members raising questions around what used to be called Corporate Social Responsibility, but more often now gets termed ESG, or Environmental, Social and Governance.

And I suspect I get asked because people are aware that I also work with lots of charities and non-profits who operate in these kinds of spaces full time.

But whatever the reason, I’ve found there is a particular question I’ve started asking earlier and earlier in those discussions: “What’s your motive here?”

Understanding motive is essential on this topic, because for motivation to last, it needs to be intrinsic – it needs to be personal and come from within. Extrinsic motivation, that motivation impressed upon us by the external environment, can be problematic, and it’s also a fickle master.

That’s why incentive schemes to get people to do the “right thing” can often be counterproductive, creating unexpected consequences, gaming of the system, sometimes outright deceit.

On the grand scale, we only need look back to the 2008 banking crash to see it, not just in the behaviours those incentives drove at the time, but also in what has changed since. The motivation to change across most of the financial sector was entirely extrinsic – pressure from regulators and public opinion – which is why the legacy of those commitments has been almost entirely tokenistic.

On a smaller scale, we don’t have to look back anything like as far. As we turn the calendar, from dry January to wet February, where are people now with all those socially-shared resolutions? How many new pairs of running shoes will be permanently consigned to the back of the cupboard by the end of this month? We know how this plays out.

Making a commitment to change is easy. Maintaining the resolve to see that commitment through is an entirely different game. An inner game. A personal game. The fact something is personally important is what makes it stick, and ultimately, what makes it meaningful and worthwhile.

So, here’s the thing. CSR is easy. You can even tick the ESG boxes fairly easily if you want the badge on your box. There are plenty of organisations, including many great charities who can help you with carbon neutrality and offsetting, community engagement and welfare, even governance.

And these are all worthwhile things to do – don’t for a minute think I’m denigrating them; I’m not.

But the question comes back to motive. Are you thinking about investing time, effort, and money in this, because you want to be seen to be doing this? Because everyone else is doing this and that’s what’s expected? Because you want to beat the benchmark and do your bit?

Or are you doing this because you genuinely, personally, want to make a real and lasting difference?

If it’s the former, that’s perfectly fine and absolutely commendable; and it’s possible I can point you in the right direction.

But if it’s the latter, drop me a line, because I would be genuinely delighted to talk.