What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Why Does It Matter?

Once, a business’ only responsibility was to turn a profit for the owner. It remained largely unchanged for centuries, but as the 18th and then the 19th centuries dawned, new ideas began to circulate. Businesses began to be seen as having responsibilities toward their employees, toward their partners and suppliers, and more. Today, the situation has changed even further and the idea of corporate social responsibility has taken root.

Corporate social responsibility includes a range of ideas about what corporations owe to society at large or to the consumers that they serve. Although CSR is not itself a mechanism of the sales process, it plays a huge role in determining a company’s public brand identity.

What is corporate social responsibility (CSR), though? How is a corporation responsible to the community around it, or to society itself? Is it nothing more than a catchphrase used to help bolster a brand’s image? What does it mean for a company to uphold their corporate social responsibility?


As the International Organization for Standardization states, “Businesses and organizations do not operate in a vacuum. Their relationship to the society and environment in which they operate is a critical factor in their ability to continue to operate effectively. It is also increasingly being used as a measure of their overall performance.” The ISO goes on to explain that organizations require guidance on how to operate in a socially responsible way, which means “acting in an ethical and transparent way that contributes to the health and welfare of society.”

That, at least, gives us a starting point. Corporate social responsibility is a set of practices and ideas having to do with the responsibilities that corporations have to society at large. What are those “ideas and practices”, though? Really, they could be anything:

  • Adopting eco-friendly business practices
  • Active participation in local eco-related events
  • Supporting charities and foundations
  • Adopting employee-friendly policies and practices
  • Ethically sourcing materials

Those are just a few basic examples. CSR can take myriad forms depending on the business or organization in question, the audience, and other factors. However, all forms offer powerful benefits, including a stronger company-employee bond, an improved public image, and the creation of a better society in which the organization can operate.


To truly understand what CSR is, why it matters, and the benefits available, we need to explore a few real-world examples of corporate social responsibility in action.


Part of CSR is taking active steps to improve the situation of an organization’s employees. Netflix did just that in the last quarter of 2015 when the online streaming giant announced that all employees would be able to take advantage of unlimited paid parental leave. This move set Netflix apart from virtually every other business in the United States and helped them secure top talent while retaining female employees and generating positive press.


While he might not be the actual head of the monolithic software firm any longer, Bill Gates is inextricably linked to his creation in many ways. One of those is that the company benefits a lot from the charitable actions of its founder, who’s involved in many different causes, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2017 alone, Gates donated $4.6 billion in Microsoft shares, rumored to be destined for the aforementioned foundation.


As a company, Tesla has more or less built itself on the premise of environmentalism. Its most well-known products are a series of electric cars, which promise eco-friendly transportation. Elon Musk has also been involved in a variety of other society-improving causes, such as his plan for an underground hyper-loop, but to mixed success.

The Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

With a better understanding of how CSR works in the real world, it’s important to turn our eyes to the benefits offered by these ideas and practices. Some are quite obvious – Netflix’s improved retention of key female employees, for instance. However, that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Good CSR can help employees feel more engaged with your organization, and can also increase loyalty while reducing churn. That saves time, money, and hassle while providing employees with greater job satisfaction. It also contributes to a positive brand image, which means that the public at large will think better of your organization.

Businesses that practice corporate social responsibility are already on their way to establishing a positive brand identity, which they can leverage for public image and marketing purposes. A positive brand identity also gives your company opportunities to create engaging marketing campaigns centered around the kinds of stories that you want to tell about your business, thereby increasing not only brand recognition but your control over your brand’s story. For instance, by practicing CSR, you can create your own material for a video marketing campaign, as part of your overall digital marketing strategy.


Ultimately, businesses are part of society in many ways. Perhaps the best corporate responsibility definition is this: CSR is an overarching strategy focused on ensuring your organization is able to conduct business in an ethical manner while considering human rights, as well as your impact on society, the economy, and the environment.

However, CSR goes much deeper, and touches on virtually every aspect of business sustainability, growth, and success. It’s about building a strong, positive brand identity, improving public and employee perception of your firm, and telling the right stories at the right time in innovative ways that reach and resonate with your audience.  One of the best ways to monitor and predict what that perception to be is to have your data analyzed for threats and opportunities so that you can move forward with confidence, budget and resources to approach the matter.

Noble Digital is a creative-performance partner that helps growth companies translate their vision into an integrated marketing strategy that performs. Noble has help growth companies like: New Balance, Mutual of Omaha, Telesign, Fundrise, and BiohmHealth to scale and hit business goals and exit goals as well as helping mid-tiers and Fortune 500s optimize their outward facing communications for maximum performance around business goals.  Our Data Matrix Appraisal helps corporations tether their business goals around data insights.