What is corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate social responsibility more commonly known as CSR is a set of company values that can be defined by the definition of Crane, Matten and Spence (2008). Crane et al. (2008) describe the six core characteristics of CSR as followed; (1) voluntary activities that go beyond those prescribed by law, (2) internalizing or managing externalities for example a reduction on pollution, (3) multiple stakeholder orientation and not only focusing on shareholders, (4) alignment of social and economic responsibilities to maximize the profitability, (5) practices and values about “why they do it” and the last element (6) mentioning that CSR is more than philanthropy alone.

Crane et al. (2008) argue that CSR is defined as a set of company values. Nevertheless in the corporate and academic world a certain uncertainty exists regarding how CSR should be defined (Dahlsrud, 2008). As a consequence academics use different values, dimensions and explanations to conceptualize CSR. Dahlsrud (2008) created a definition of CSR were he considers five dimensions similar to the company values that were found by Crane et al. (2008). The first dimension of Dahlsrud’s (2008) concept of CSR is the environmental dimension that focuses on a cleaner environment and environmental concerns in business operations. Secondly the social dimension, which is all about contributing to a better society or integrate social concerns in business operations. Thirdly he mentions economic development and preserving the profitability. Followed by the stakeholder’s dimension, which supports interaction and explains how to treat the stakeholders of the firm. The final dimension is voluntariness that focuses on ethical values beyond legal obligations.

The CSR values of Crane et al. (2008) and the dimensions of Dahlsrud (2008) show similarities on most CSR aspects but there are some differences. The fifth and sixth values of Crane et al. (2008) aren’t described by Dahlsrud (2008) explanation of CSR. Although Dahlsrud (2008) did not describe these values they are considered to be important aspects, due to the fact that managers are responsible for the company the “why they do it” facet of Crane et al. (2008) should be well understood. Cramer (2005) and Van der Heijden et al. (2010) support the previous statement by arguing that CSR is a search process that requires company leaders to develop their own organization-specific balance between people, planet and profit. These values, dimensions and search processes have to be incorporated in organization policies and accepted by employees in order to function.

Due to the uncertainty in academic literature on how to define CSR Dahlsrud (2008) reviewed different definitions in a comprehensive study. In order to get a better understanding of the CSR concept two of the most used definitions in academic literature are shown below according to Dalhsrud (2008). The Commission of the European Communities (2001) defined CSR as followed; “A concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on voluntary basis”. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (1999) used a similar CSR definition; “The commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life”. Both CSR definitions mention the values and dimensions of Crane et al. (2008) and Dahlsrud (2008). Therefore it is safe to say based upon the existing academic literature that CSR is a concept that brings together many aspects of an organization strategy that can be used as guidance for a better society.

Above definitions of CSR give a view of how responsible companies can and should act in the world. It doesn’t however, zoom in on the more internal organizational benefits that CSR can bring. For example, more recent research from Frontiers in Psychology (2016) shows that corporate responsibility programs are great ways to raise morale in the workplace. In addition, helping employees getting more engaged and perform better according to David. A Jones (2011). Benefits that will all help to build a more sustainable organization.

All in all it is safe to assume that CSR is here to stay and develop more prominently in governmental, corporate and small businesses decision making over the next decades to come. I’m looking forward to the future and wil try to make a change as a manger and leader with CSR as an MVP.

Read more about focus, change or guidance within your company in OGSM method or Lewin’s change model.


  • David A. Jones (2011). Does serving the community also serve the company? Using organizational identification and social exchange theories to understand employee responses to a volunteerism programme. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Retrieved on November 5, 2021.
  • Frontiers in Psychology. “Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Engagement: Enabling Employees to Employ More of Their Whole Selves at Work. (2016)” retrieved on November 5, 2021.
  • Commission of the European Communities. 2001. Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibilities, COM (2001) 366 final, Brussels. Retrieved on 25nd of March 2017 via
  • Cramer, J. (2005). Experiences with structuring corporate social responsibility in Dutch industry. Journal of Cleaner Production, 13(6), 583-592.
  • Crane, A., Matten, D., & Spence, L. (2008). Corporate Social Responsibility in a Global Context. In Corporate social responsibility Readings and Cases in Global Context (pp. 3-20) Abingdon, England: Rootledge.
  • Dahlsrud, A. (2008). How corporate social responsibility is defined: an analysis of 37 definitions. Corporate social responsibility and environmental management, 15(1), 1-13.
  • Van der Heijden, A., Driessen, P. P., & Cramer, J. M. (2010). Making sense of Corporate Social Responsibility: Exploring organizational processes and strategies. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(18), 1787-1796.
  • World Business Council for Sustainable Development. 1999. Corporate Social Responsibility: Meeting Changing Expectations. World Business Council for Sustainable Development: Geneva. Retrieved on 29th of April 2021 via

One reply on “What is corporate social responsibility (CSR)?”

The concept of CSR revolves around business profit and brand .The core elements of social intervention to target achievement of SDG goals especially Education and health care are not specifically in concert.
This is dilution of concept of social responsibility from people perspective to have development with human face

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