What’s the difference between CSR and sustainability?

They are often seen together, and sometimes even used interchangeably – but how do you define each term to avoid any jargon blunders?

Wow - there's really a difference between CSR and sustainability?

Some say that CSR is an umbrella term under which sustainability is one aspect, and others argue that CSR is one of the three-pronged ‘p’s’ in people, planet and profit. But whether they are evolving to eventually become synonymous, there are differences between the two.

Traditionally, CSR refers to businesses’ responsibility to act ethically and consider their impacts on the community at large, and does not necessarily encompass sustainability. Sustainability on the other hand is concerned with preserving resources and operating in a way that is conducive to long-term trading.

Some say that a clear difference therefore is in the vision: CSR looks backwards at performance, typically over the last 12 months, while sustainability – although increasingly featured in dedicated reports also – has a more prominent forward-facing focus, with targets to secure the future for trading.

To put it another way, both CSR and sustainability understand that the context, community and environment in which a business operates is integral to that business’ success. Sustainability, then, goes on step further by taking into account the needs of the future generations.

In business practice, some say that CSR is embedded in the company’s mission/vision: who it is, what it wants to represent and achieve. Sustainability, meanwhile, is in the day-to-day operations of that company, for example in how it uses energy.

Then, there is a multi-dimensional view of CSR, known as 4CR. This incorporates three interlinked movements in the corporate world: CSR, sustainability and worldwide reforms on corporate governance.

In a world where the two terms are slowly becoming intertwined, should we focus on the similarities or the differences?

How do you use the terms CSR and sustainability? Add your insights and further definitions below.