You might have already read the blogposts on our website on the subject of the CSR Trend Report 2015. Lars Moratis is the author of the report and academic director and professor of the Competence Center Corporate Responsibility. Time to inquire about the background of the research and the term Corporate Social Responsibility itself.
You work in this discipline in Belgium and the Netherlands, do you notice any differences in how politics and corporations handle CSR in both countries?
The Netherlands have a number of leading businesses. In terms of politics the difference is harder to denominate. Sustainable entrepreneurship in Belgium is more about social economics, non-profit businesses or corporations who watch over people with poor job prospects. This load of CSR in a country is determined partially by politics. There are agreements as well, for example circular economy. For some reason they’re a bit faster in adopting the sustainable goals agenda in Belgium. There is a lot of activity in that area, also in Antwerp.
How are Belgian businesses doing on CSR compared to other countries?
Belgium is pretty progressive on CSR, compared to other countries. Ten, twelve years ago the initiative to sensitize businesses in terms of CSR was introduced. MVO Netherlands then originated, but in Belgium it grew more fragmented. In Belgium we also focus on all themes; ethics, integrity, circular economy, people with poor job prospects. The Netherlands and other countries are ahead on themes like sustainable business models. We, as a Competence Center, try to partially play a supportive role in this. The Barometer of Antwerp Management School indicated that the upward trend of of sustainable entrepreneurship kept on growing in Belgian corporations.
Does this also apply to small and medium-sized enterprises?
That depends on what criteria you utilize. These entrepreneurs are responsive to energy saving, because it yields short-term return. Family businesses also look ahead on the long term, and thus make more sustainable decisions. There’s generally quite a bit of ignorance. They usually don’t know what circular economy is. Coincidentally this is a very specific concept, but you have to communicate on a practical level to find out what concepts they already use. More and more managers of small enterprises come to AMS. They are interested, though, but corporations experience the barrier to invest in it short term.
To what degree are Belgian CSR managers successful?
There are quite a few sustainability standards. You could measure them on all of these standards from inside the corporation, but there is no comprehensive sustainability test. The sustainable goals agenda contains the most important global issues. Business themselves can declare what targets they deem relevant and make a different out of their core business. That’s how you translate sustainability to your own business. That way it doesn’t only cost you, but you can consciously determine your biggest goal.
To what degree do businesses integrate certain guidelines just because of social pressure?
On CSR motives in business we notice: 1. because they have to. 2. because it should be, 3. because it’s current. For the first motivate we see pressing conditions asked by government and suppliers, but it’s not a case of mandatory legislation yet. For ‘because it should be’ we notice that many entrepreneurs want to give back to their neighborhood. The third motivate why they develop the CSR strategy is because of economic gain. This usually is not short-term.
How can a solid CSR elaboration within the company assure a better strategic position?
CSR can be strategic because it assures resources, taking in account their position on the labor market and also because it increases investment opportunities for impact investors. Those are investors that want to invest in companies that want to make a different by not prioritizing profit. Many analysts see a connection between the importance of, for example, ecological quality on one hand and continuity by the safeguarding of risks on the other hand. We see a development in the last year that more and more businesses have a smaller risk profile.
Belgian Umicore got the number 1 spot on the top 100 sustainable corporations by a Canadian magazine. Do media still play part in how businesses present themselves?
The best thing regarding the Umicore case is that it shows that a transition from non-sustainable to sustainable is possible. Another example of a Belgian corporation who does well is Spadel. Beforehand you had some notion of it, but once you get to know the company, you see that they do very well. Media should play a bigger part in reporting. The companies have to be questioned critically, of course, but it would be nice if It was less negative. Lots of great examples and the choices they make could be illustrated and researched.
Which development in the business world in the last two years make you optimistic?
My belief is partially in technology that cultivates sustainability goals. Even on domestic power saving. Along the line you see more and more social entrepreneurship. The younger generation has ambitious objectives. A third development is that companies dare communicating in more aspiring ways (for example the climate promise by Unilever during the Paris climate summit). You can be skeptical about that, but at least they’re telling it. They’re undertaking something.
How much awareness is there for CSR business education?
Management education is more and more aware of it in the last ten years, partially because of the accreditation schemes and through the example of the United States. In the Netherlands most business courses touch on it, but insufficiently. If I think of how management education would have to play it part in a sustainable future, we’d have to pull up our socks. At Antwerp Management School we want to empower student to draw from that knowledge and immediately contribute to what those themes do on other levels.
What can Antwerp Management School offer regarding education and CSR
The nice thing about AMS is that they work towards it in a dedicated, twofold manner: on one hand business, on the other hand, science. That’s an interesting profile. Within their pillars they take a stance on their goal to make global citizens of their students through: “Self-Awareness, Global Perspective, and Societal Consciousness”. Our Competence Center wants to empower businesses in this social dimension. It’s about research, but also about application and tooling. The translation of practice to education and vice versa through the tools we provide.