Corporate Responsibility Education for Senior Executives – How Important Is It?

As corporate responsibility (CR) has grown rapidly over the past years, CR key issues are dynamic and therefore create the need for new, innovative directions in the development and implementation of effective and integrated CSR strategies.

Do senior executives of global large and mid-size organizations really understand the CR business case? Have they embedded CR within their core strategies and supply chain? Is CR viewed as an “extra” or a fundamental way to do business?

Although most executives in various research studies declare that CR is extremely important to their business, few organizations globally have integrated CR values into their core strategy and supply chain. There are many reasons why this is happening. One of them is due to the lack of appropriate awareness and education. CR is not yet a core course for the most American or European MBAs, while executives don’t devote much time to professional education in this area since they consider CR a “soft” issue.

Today, sustainable development represents one of the most discussed topics, on a social, environmental, and economic level, mainly as a result of the latest critical transformational changes in all levels of society and adverse environmental impacts. Under this pressure, and due to the growing need for material and quality educational resources on CR and sustainable development, in its 57th meeting in December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the years from 2005 to 2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), “emphasizing that education is an indispensable element for achieving sustainable development.” Additionally, in October 2011, the European Commission announced its CSR commitments for the next several years. This initiative reflects the mutual commitment and the definition of specific preconditions from all the countries for the confrontation of key problems, but it also constitutes one strong motivation for citizens and organizations in order to act on the same basis.

Therefore, it is becoming more and more obvious that the role of CR managers (chief sustainability officers, or CSOs) is now more important than ever. Corporate executives must find new ways to address the social, economic, and environmental impacts of doing business “as usual,” and organizations must increase the degree to which employees of all levels and functions – not only managers or directors – comprehend, appreciate, embrace and practice the concepts of CR. Specifically for CR managers, required abilities and skills should focus on the alignment of the organization’s strategy with the values and principles of corporate responsibility; and realize that the effective choice of CSR activities and initiatives that address the stakeholders’ needs will constitute a competitive advantage to shape future leaders.

Adopting a more practical outlook, CR managers and other senior executives have to be able to answer crucial questions such as:

  • What is my organization’s social and environmental impact?
  • How do I set goals and measure performance?
  • How can my organization utilize CR strategy/initiatives in order to stand out in comparison to the competition?
  • Does the supply chain strategy align with my CR strategy and board’s decision-making?
  • How do I create a CR culture and motivate my employees?
  • On which stakeholders groups do we need to put priority?
  • In which ways can I encourage/incentivize/initiate innovation internally?

The issues above constitute key everyday issues that experienced CR managers from all sectors, around the world, come across every day. Such challenges will be addressed in implementing the appropriate CR strategy through integrated initiatives that respond to the business priorities, and through companywide awareness training programs that are consistent with corporate strategy.

Training programs, responding to the growing demand for awareness and education on issues pertaining to sustainable risks, environmental policy and future legislation, stakeholder engagement, and sustainability reporting, in all levels of hierarchy and in all sectors, are being developed to meet and exceed organizational requests originating from stakeholder demands. The aim of these programs is to train the professionals involved in all stages of the deployment of CR to effectively integrate principles and best practices into the corporate decision making system.

Well trained CR managers, having an overall picture of their organization’s operations, are able to assist organizations in the CR long term journey supporting CR integration. Moreover, ownership of the trained senior business executives is critical in their organizations for the assurance of a long-term competitive advantage. Encouraging businesses to change existing economic and business models – differentiating their products and services to a “green” direction – gives them a high return on investment and elements of excellence and leadership, meeting new strategic objectives and corporate responsibility values.

Leading CR organizations as Heineken Group and Lloyds Banking Group have established a CR culture that is embraced by the company as a whole and is applied to all business processes; it is not treated as an add-on or a separate function. This allows organizations to identity business opportunities faster and act accordingly. Organizations embracing CR are able to measure performance and processes, assess the impact of their decisions and activities, and therefore, realize the true value of their practices. Establishing the “business case for CR” does not prevail anymore, but shapes the national and international agenda of the leading business community.

Nikos Avlonas is founder and president of The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE), a global sustainability (CSR) strategic consulting and training organization providing in-house and open trainings that meet the needs and requirements of every industry and the business activities of every organization. As an Approved Course and Training Organization under the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), and a GRI Certified Training Provider, CSE offers intensive professional learning opportunities to executives and senior level managers on Corporate Social Responsibility Strategies, Carbon Footprint, CR legislation, Sustainability Reporting, and Climate Change Leadership. The Global Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner and Carbon Strategy Practitioner courses have taken place in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Brussels, Athens, Dubai, and Tokyo. For info about the next trainings programs visit