Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility

By Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer

The prevailing approaches to CSR are so disconnected from business as to obscure many of the greatest opportunities for companies to benefit society.

 

Governments, activists, and the media have become adept at holding companies to account for the social consequences of their activities. Myriad organizations rank companies on the performance of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), and, despite sometimes questionable methodologies, these rankings attract considerable publicity. As a result, CSR has emerged as an inescapable priority for business leaders in every country.

Many companies have already done much to improve the social and environmental consequences of their activities, yet these efforts have not been nearly as productive as they could be—for two reasons. First, they pit business against society, when clearly the two are interdependent. Second, they pressure companies to think of corporate social responsibility in generic ways instead of in the way most appropriate to each firm’s strategy.

The fact is, the prevailing approaches to CSR are so fragmented and so disconnected from business and strategy as to obscure many of the greatest opportunities for companies to benefit society. If, instead, corporations were to analyze their prospects for social responsibility using the same frameworks that guide their core business choices, they would discover that CSR can be much more than a cost, a constraint, or a charitable deed—it can be a source of opportunity, innovation, and competitive advantage.