Six differences between CSR and Sustainability

These two terms can seem interchangeable, but there are some subtle, and not so subtle, differences between them.

1. Vision

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) looks backwards, reporting on what a business has done, typically in the last 12 months, to make a contribution to society.

Sustainability looks forward, planning the changes a business might make to secure its future (reducing waste, assuring supply chains, developing new markets, building its brand).


2. Targets

CSR tends to target opinion formers – politicians, pressure groups, media.

Sustainability targets the whole value chain – from suppliers to operations to partners to end-consumers.


3. Business

CSR is becoming about compliance.

Sustainability is about business.


4. Management

CSR gets managed by communications teams.

Sustainability by operations and marketing.


5. Reward

CSR investment is rewarded by politicians.

Sustainability investment is rewarded by the City (‘Finally, we provide evidence that High Sustainability companies significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance’).


6. Drive

CSR is driven by the need to protect reputations in developed markets.

Sustainability is driven by the need to create opportunities in emerging markets.


I’m certain you’ll not agree with all of these, and equally certain there are more. Would love to hear your views.


Image credit: Oliver Wendel