With corporate social responsibility (CSR) creeping rapidly up the CEO’s “must do” list, boards of directors, along with their general counsels and company secretaries, need to be up to speed on the latest thinking. It’s not surprising, then, to see the number of corporate social responsibility books growing exponentially and corporate social responsibility articles proliferating. How do you cut through the noise to focus on the most critical information? What are good books about corporate social responsibility and the best corporate social responsibility articles? Our roundup of the must-read corporate social responsibility books and articles is designed to help.
What are the Best Books on Corporate Social Responsibility?
1. Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your CauseAuthors: Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee Audience: Managers and directors, marketers, general counsels, company secretaries Good read for: Those starting on their CSR journey Focusing on both the bottom-line and reputational benefits of implementing a CSR strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility delivers a mix of theory and tactics. The book compiles case studies and experiences from 25 companies leading the way in CSR, including Hewlett-Packard and Ben & Jerry’s. A great read for anyone wanting to understand CSR through a commercial lens.
“A good company offers excellent products and services. A great company also offers excellent products and services but also strives to make the world a better place.”Read Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your Cause.
2. The Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: How your Company Can Win the Battle for Reputation and ImpactAuthors: Dave Stangis and Katherine Valvoda Smith Audience: Board level and senior executives Good read for: Those with some CSR knowledge Described as “a succinct handbook,” this guide is designed to give senior managers a grounding in the link between corporate citizenship and business benefits. It includes practical tools for businesses aiming to maximize their social value.
“It’s not always easy to uncover your core purpose, but if you get it right you’ll have a solid foundation that provides the justification and boundaries for your business strategy and corporate citizenship program.”Read The Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: How your Company Can Win the Battle for Reputation and Impact.
3. Who’s Responsible for Corporate Social Responsibility?Author: Christine Bader Audience: Management at all levels, those recruiting with CSR in mind Good read for: Those starting their CSR journey This book is described as “a tour of the key roles aimed at advancing corporate change on social and environmental issues.” CSR expert Marcy Twete views it as a “guide for interviewing in the CR field,” exploring the relevance of CSR to different roles and the part they play in achieving it. Read Who’s Responsible for Corporate Social Responsibility?
4. Making Sustainability Work: Best Practices in Managing and Measuring Corporate Social, Environmental and Economic ImpactsAuthors: Marc J. Epstein and Adriana Rejc Buhovac Audience: Senior management Good read for: Those with some CSR knowledge This book focuses on practical guidance for companies wanting to implement corporate social responsibility initiatives and measure their social and economic impact. Described as “The ultimate ’how-to-do-it‘ guide,” it is designed in response to a growing number of corporate leaders “asking for urgent help in ’getting this done.’”
“Firms should not underestimate their ability to turn sustainability into a competitive advantage.”Read Making Sustainability Work: Best Practices in Managing and Measuring Corporate Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts.
5. The Handbook of Board Governance: A Comprehensive Guide for Public, Private, and Not-for-Profit Board MembersAuthor: Richard Leblanc Audience: Board members and senior executives Good read for: Those starting their CSR journey This book shares insights from academics and respected business leaders in governance and CSR on issues like the strategic role of the board in corporate governance and the role of governance in value creation. The result is a CSR “handbook” for board members – perhaps sparking more questions than answers and giving directors food for thought on their own approach. Read The Handbook of Board Governance: A Comprehensive Guide for Public, Private, and Not-for-Profit Board Members.
6. Corporation Be Good! the Story of Corporate Social ResponsibilityAuthor: William C. Frederick Audience: Management at all levels Good read for: Those starting their CSR journey This book promises to deliver “the story of Corporate Social Responsibility – what it means, where it came from, where it is going, what it requires of business.” It may be a few years old now (first published in 2014), but its eyewitness style and engaging tone make this a recommended read for anyone looking to understand the origins and evolution of CSR. Read Corporation Be Good! the Story of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Standout Corporate Social Responsibility Articles
7. Milton Friedman On The Social Responsibility of Business, 50 Years LaterAuthor: Taylor Tepper Audience: Board members and senior executives wanting insight into CSR theory Good read for: Those starting their CSR journey It’s been fifty years since Milton Friedman published his essay, The Social Responsibility of Business Is To Increase Its Profits; this 2020 article explores the relevance of Friedman’s thinking today. It analyzes his thinking through a 2020 lens, examining how corporates’ approaches to CSR and its more recent relation, ESG (environmental, social and governance), have changed since his seminal article was written. As a result, it’s a valuable introduction to a key CSR theory placed in a contemporary context, exploring the connection between social duties and commercial imperatives.
“It’s an interesting time to reconsider Friedman’s essay on the social responsibility of business. Corporations, it seems, have never been more concerned with appearing socially responsible.”Read this article.
8. Social-Impact Efforts That Create Real ValueAuthor: George Serafeim Audience: Board members and senior executives Good read for: Those with some CSR knowledge Once you’ve mastered CSR and ESG theory, this 2020 article focuses on putting it into practice. The author makes five recommendations for organizations wanting to embed ESG approaches into their strategy and operations – and as a result, creates a useful to-do list for executives.
“Companies must move beyond box checking and window dressing. In a world that increasingly judges them on their ESG performance, they must look to more-fundamental drivers—particularly strategy—to achieve real results and be rewarded for them.”Read this article.
9. Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility – Is There a Dividing Line?Author: Dr. Goel Mridula Audience: Management at all levels Good read for: Those with a good level of CSR knowledge This Science Direct article may be from 2014, but the question it poses remains relevant today. Many organizations struggle to reconcile business ethics and CSR concepts and understand the differences and overlays between the two. Today, waters are muddied further by the concept of ESG, still nascent when the article was written. Any executive wanting to understand how the various facets of CSR and business ethics interact would find this an interesting read.
“We have studied CSR through the framework of the stakeholder theory of the firm and posit that CSR as practiced today is a subset of Business Ethics with other dimensions of an overall ethics framework still uncovered.”Read this article.
10. 10 CSR Trends To Watch In 2021Author: Timothy J McClimon Audience: Boards, general counsels, company secretaries Good read for: Those starting on their CSR journey Bringing us right up to date, this article provides ten focus areas for any business wanting to tackle CSR in 2021. The author examines the direction of travel in ethics and CSR, making this a practical, usable read. Whether you are a general counsel, company secretary, board director or other executive with influence over your corporate strategy, this article will provide you with suggestions to focus your CSR efforts.
“Corporate Social Responsibility leaders are more challenged, more needed and more impactful than ever before. These 10 trends will drive much of their work in 2021 and help make the world a better and safer place for us all.”Read this article.
11. The 10 Most Innovative Corporate Social Responsibility Companies of 2021Author: Fast Company Staff Audience: Management at all levels Good read for: Those with some CSR knowledge This article provides best-practice examples of businesses taking the lead on CSR in 2021. Consequently, it’s a great quick read for any board director or senior leader looking for inspiration on the immediate actions they can take to upgrade their CSR strategy. Ten very different companies are profiled with snappy summaries of their current CSR innovations.
“These ten initiatives set the bar for this year’s most innovative companies in the category of corporate social responsibility.”Read this article.
Prepare for the Next Step: Moving from CSR to ESGHopefully, this roundup of the best corporate social responsibility books and articles has provided ideas and encouragement to develop your own CSR strategy further. But of course, business – and the wider world – never stay still. You may be well advanced on your CSR journey; you may be just at the start. But already, the dialogue is evolving. ESG is fast taking over from CSR as the topic of conversation, being more circumscribed and easily measured. If you’re looking to increase your knowledge on CSR, you can’t afford to ignore the related subject of ESG. In an article titled CSR is a thing of the past: Why more businesses need to invest in ESG, Energy Live News noted that 93% of the world’s largest companies by revenue now report on ESG. The direction of travel is clear: ESG is fast replacing CSR as the issue boards and senior leaders need to pay most attention to. Suppose you want to take the next step and move from corporate social responsibility books and corporate social responsibility articles to ESG insights. In that case, you can find out more about ESG and how boards can tackle its challenges at Diligent’s dedicated ESG hub. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone needing to explore ESG issues, trends and solutions. Alternatively, you can discover several of our popular ESG-related articles here:
The Rising Tide of ESG – Navigating the Road Ahead
The Board's Role in Leading and Enabling GRC
Board and Executive Collaboration: Components of a Secure Platform for the Evolving Workplace