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Putting your money where your mouth is: why sustainability reporting based on the triple bottom line can be misleading.


ABSTRACT: In the packaged food industry, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an informal requirement for which firms account through sustainability reporting. CSR behaviors are often reported and analyzed using the Triple Bottom Line (3BL) framework, which categorizes them as affecting people, planet, or profit. 3BL is useful in determining which of these categories is most elaborated upon by the firm, but has a limited scope and many documented criticisms. This paper aims to address the aforementioned insufficiencies by augmenting the 3BL framework with two important attributes of CSR practices: (1) the presence of change in core firm behavior of the firm itself or of others in the supply chain, and (2) whether the behavior qualifies as being outside of the firm's normal business practice or is something that they might have done anyway. We qualitatively analyze CSR behaviors described in sustainability reports and interviews from major players in the packaged food industry and categorize them using these attributes as a supplement to 3BL. This enables us to separate the behaviors from their framing and analyze them more critically. Our results demonstrate how the visible CSR efforts of a firm can be misleading at first glance. Using only 3BL, we find that the CSR focus of firms in this industry is people. We then discover that the codes focusing on people (as opposed to planet or profit) require the least amount of real structural change from a firm or its supply chain partners, and thus arguably, the least amount of effort. We also find that behaviors that focus on planet require the most effort within the firm itself, but for behaviors involving supply chain partners, effort is required for behaviors in all three categories. Finally, we find that CSR behavior that is related to planet tends to go beyond normal business practice.

SUBMITTER: Shnayder L 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC4368568 | BioStudies | 2015-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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