Going green a ‘social responsibility’ beyond hardware recycling

There's no standard way to measure corporate social responsibility

ICT is going green, with many hardware makers in particular advertising their “green” practices.

Prominent features of this new green approach to ICT include lower power consumption as well as more thoughtful designs of both hardware and cabinetry, so hardware can be more easily disposed of or recycled.

Although this new emphasis on social responsibility — which is most noticeable when it comes to environmental concerns — is still small, it is a growing effort.

However, corporate social responsibility (CSR) embraces more than this, Starfish Consulting’s Stephen Timperley told a meeting of the NZ Computer Society last week. Timperley is studying for a master’s degree and has chosen CSR as his thesis topic.

CSR links strongly with the sustainability theme of not plundering tomorrow’s resources to meet today’s needs, says Timperley. This is summed up well in ecological economist Herman Daly statement: “It is morally and economically wrong to treat the world as a business in liquidation,” he says.

But CSR also includes responsibility to the organisation’s employees — providing them with decent salaries and benefits, as well as a good work environment and appropriate career guidance. And there is responsibility to the wider community around the organisation, too, and to the other companies it works with it.

Increasingly, people look for a high CSR rating in the companies they deal with. These people include prospective customers and partners. “And it’s not just a question of ticking a box on a tender form to say ‘we’re responsible’. They will ask for details,” says Timperley.

Investors — and there is over US$2 trillion in investment funds out there — are also concerned that the companies they invest in are socially responsible, and they look for a measure, he says.

The chief problem, as Timperley sees it, is that there is no standard way to measure CSR. There are respected consultancies, but they have inconsistent methodologies. One, for example, gave British American Tobacco top marks on almost all the measures pertaining to its operations, but its methodology did not take into account the effect of the company’s product on the general population.

Another agency, that does take account of the product’s effect, declined even to measure BAT’s social responsibility.

In the finance world, this is unheard of. “If Moodys (the credit rating agency) gives a company an A+, you can be sure it’s not going to get a D from Standard & Poors,” says Timperley.

Standard measures for CSR may develop eventually, but the discipline of CSR measurement is still in its infancy, says Timperley.

He told Computerworld he knows of no CSR measurement regime that applies specifically to ICT.

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