Positioning CSR at the Core of Canadian Business
Canadian Business for Social Responsibility
Leor Rotchild is the Executive Director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), where he promotes responsible Canadian business as a force for good in the world. Prior to joining CBSR, he worked with The Natural Step’s Energy Futures Lab, which is accelerating an energy transition in Alberta. Leor is a social entrepreneur, having co-founded a B Corp environmental business called DIG. He also has many years of experience in Alberta’s energy sector, where he served as Corporate Responsibility Advisor to two of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies.
Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) was founded in 1995. It is a professional association for forward-thinking companies and a charitable think tank on a mission to increase the competitiveness of Canadian business while driving collaborative action to solve major social and environmental challenges. It has helped hundreds of Canadian businesses advance their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability work; convened numerous events across Canada; and developed leading research and reports.
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1- CSR performance metrics are there to help benchmark progress but the Canadian businesses who succeed in implementing them are those that know who they are and where they want to go.
2- The eight themes that were favoured to represent the values behind the “Do Business Like a Canadian” campaign are: purpose-driven, globally-minded, eco-conscious, ethical, gender balanced, inclusive, innovative and collaborative.
3- A good way to change the traditional corporate landscape for the better is to reward innovative companies that have a proven model to integrate CSR or sustainability practices with public procurement contracts.
We need to reward innovative companies that have a proven model with procurement contracts. Two government officials that have the ability to change our procurement processes are Minister Jim Carr and Minister Navdeep Bains. The pitch to them: Let’s improve our procurement decision-making and award contracts to proven Canadian innovators who have deeply integrated positive, social and environmental impacts into their offerings.
CBSR recently launched the “Do Business Like a Canadian” campaign. What does it mean to “do business like a Canadian”?
We set out to answer the question: “Is there a core set of values that unite us to solve some of our most pressing societal, environmental and economic problems?” Mindsets are important and the stories we tell ourselves matter. That is why CBSR, set out to articulate a mindset that would help Canadian companies aspire to move and compete faster, and look beyond the current dependency on the US toward contributing to a truly global economy.
We spoke with focus groups, led workshops and attended key conferences across the country. Over the year long process, eight themes emerged to define Canadian business values: purpose-driven, globally-minded, eco-conscious, ethical, gender balanced, inclusive, innovative and collaborative.
What are some tangible metrics Canadian companies can use to measure their CSR performance?
Certain metrics are well known, such as measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but there are many others to consider, too. We have seen an increase in companies moving toward the B Corp model for guidance and many companies have found value in using our Transformational Company Qualities framework.
However, we have to make sure not to confuse people with the fine details of performance measurement. The most critical factor to successfully integrate CSR metrics is knowing who you are as a company and where you are trying to go. When a business involves its team and aligns itself around a purpose, the transformation and performance measurement can begin.
CBSR’s framework includes a learning network of strategic partners and collaborators. Every day, we build and cultivate a national network of companies from various sectors who devote their time and resources to solve issues together. In this network, Canadian businesses learn from each other how to best measure their performance. Some of our members, including Maple Leaf Foods, are very advanced in this work. The company is not just focused on reaching targets slightly better than last year. They are actively working toward and measuring performance against their larger aspiration of being the most sustainable protein company on earth. Companies that strategically align around a purpose are better positioned to attract and retain talent and compete globally.
How can Canada best lead the way in a world focused on the triple bottom line? What are Canadian governments doing well and what would you like to see them do differently in relation to CSR?
Our federal government has recently appointed a new CSR Ombudsperson, known as the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). This is a step in the right direction to make sure we have a neutral party to promote responsible business abroad and investigate allegations of improprieties at international Canadian companies.
“A way to move forward is to redesign public procurement processes so that companies that provide products and services with positive social and environmental outcomes are awarded government contracts.”
Another way to move forward is to redesign public procurement processes so that companies that provide products and services with positive social and environmental outcomes are awarded government contracts.It’s important to recognize how much influence and power our governments have through their procurement decision-making. Only 13% of public procurement happens at the federal level, while 87% happens at the provincial and the municipal levels. So, it is not only a federal responsibility. In fact, municipal governments probably have the most influence on procurement decision-making with respect to large infrastructure projects that can minimize waste, reduce emissions and provide meaningful opportunities to Indigenous-owned businesses. Procurement contracts should prioritize companies striving to commercialize CarbonTech – a process to capture carbon dioxide and convert it into useful products and materials. If a company is turning carbon dioxide into products and materials that could be deployed through government activities, such as building infrastructure or powering cities, that is a win-win for Canada. It solves some of our innovation and investment challenges, and it positions us for leadership in an emerging industry that will have an important role in the world.
Which Canadian industries are leading the way in CSR?
Canada’s financial sector is strongly leading the way in CSR and transforming the way our economy operates. The industry is moving real resources and driving investment towards a low carbon economy, and influencing others towards solutions. Ten years ago, financial players were questioning impact investments and their ability to influence share price. Now, no one questions it. Impact investments are channeling trillions of dollars in our economy.
“Ten years ago, financial players were questioning impact investments and their ability to influence share price. Now, no one questions it. Impact investments are channeling trillions of dollars in our economy.”
Notable companies to mention are NEI Investments, who advise responsible investors and engage companies they invest in to encourage adoption of more sustainable behaviour. There is also the Ready Commitment Program launched by TD Bank, which gives low carbon investment initiatives access to $100 billion over the next 10 years. The Canadian financial sector is a dominant and influential part of our economy and so we should feel optimistic in seeing it implement this kind of CSR leadership.
Which of our industries have opportunities they could pivot into to develop into CSR leaders for Canada and internationally?
Canada is incredibly well positioned to be a global CarbonTech pioneer, which builds on our long standing leadership in carbon capture technologies. There is a counterproductive sentiment that exists in Canada that calls for the shut down of certain industries and creation of brand new global industries from scratch overnight. We do need to move fast, but blindly shutting down companies is not the answer. If we can master the art of capturing and transforming GHGs to create new value-added products and materials, we would take the world stage and reach the ambitious targets set by the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.
It would be game-changing for Canada to lead this emerging global carbon industry. Our agriculture sector is already experimenting with the practice of recycling carbon to rejuvenate soils, which is fascinating. If we zero in on this emerging opportunity we could master the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into lightweight steel, cement or concrete, make these new products last longer than the traditional alternatives, and integrate them with our government procurement processes to build the infrastructure we need to power our cities.