Gesellschaftliche Herausforderungen als unternehmerische Chance – Ein Corporate Social Responsibility Ansatz

Aktuell, wird das Marktumfeld von vielen unterschiedlichen gesellschaftlichen Herausforderungen geprägt. Zu diesen Herausforderungen zählen wir die Marktvolatilität, die sich aus Themen rund um demografische Änderungen und eine Volatilität in Angebot und Nachfrage zusammen setzt. Des Weiteren, stellt sich für viele Unternehmen heutzutage die Frage nach dem Zusammenhang zwischen Profit und Gesellschaftlicher Verantwung. „Profit vs. Gesellschaftliche Verantwortung“ steht hier für die Auseinandersetzung zwischen Rekordprofiten und sozialen Problemen. Immer mehr Unternehmen setzen sich mit Ihrer Rolle in der Gesellschaft auseinander und versuchen nicht nur eine Profit Maximierung zu erreichen sondern auch gesellschaftlichen Nutzen zu erzielen. Ebenfalls zu den gängigen Herausforderungen im Marktumfeld zählen die verfügbaren natürlichen Ressourcen, wie beispielsweise fossile Brennstoffe oder Frischwasser. Die Globale Wertschöpfung fördert zudem Interdependenzen und Disruptionen im Marktumfeld. All diese Herausforderungen wirken sich auch auf unternehmerischen Entscheidungen aus. Diese Entscheidung werden oft aufgrund bestimmter Treiber getroffen wie beispielsweise die Industrie 4.0 oder der steigende soziale Druck auf Unternehmen. Diese Herausforderungen und Treiber führen uns zu der Kernfrage: „Wie können Unternehmen Wert schaffen?“ und „Wie können wir gesellschaftliche Herausforderungen lösen?“ [1].

Diese Fragestellung leitet uns zu einer Neupositionierung der Unternehmen in der heutigen Gesellschaft. Unternehmen sind ein wichtiger Bestandteil der Gesellschaft, sozusagen Bürger der Gesellschaft. Dadurch wird Ihnen eine explizite Verantwortung übertragen. Eine Neuausrichtung des Managements im Unternehmen führt daher oft zu einem Corporate Social Responsibility Ansatz [2]. Doch wofür steht Corporate Social Responsibility? Und wodurch wird Social Responsibility geprägt?

Die EU-Kommission definiert CSR als “die Verantwortung von Unternehmen für Ihre Auswirkungen auf die Gesellschaft”[3].

Mit CSR können Unternehmen sowohl Ihrer sozialen Verantwortung im vollem Umfang gerecht werden als auch neue Märkte erschließen, sinnvolle Innovation voranbringen und Prozesse optimieren. Wir sehen vermehrt, dass CSR gemeinsam mit Globalisierung, Innovation und Digitalisierung gedacht wird. Um CSR holistisch voranzutreiben benötigt es daher auch verantwortungsvolle Führungskräfte.

Verbinden wir dieses nun mit unseren globalen Herausforderungen, dann sehen wir, dass ein verantwortungsvolles wirtschaften auch neue Chancen bringt. Zu der Verantwortung, die Unternehmen übernehmen gehören beispielsweise die Mitarbeiterförderung, die Ressourcenschonung oder das Engagement für die Gesellschaft [4].

Der Bereich der Nachhaltigkeit muss somit neu überdacht werden. Für Unternehmen bedeutet CSR nicht, dass zwischen gesellschaftlichem Nutzen und eigenem Interesse entschieden werden muss. CSR bedeutet, dass Unternehmen durch gesellschaftlichen und ökonomischen Nutzen Profit erzielen können. Dies ist eine Verzahnung von finanziellem, sozialem und ökologischem Erfolg und zwar langfristig. CSR ist somit eine Mischung aus dem „Business Case“ und dem „Social Case“. Es ist weder reine Philanthropie, der „Social Case“ noch ist es eine ausschließliche Gewinnmaximierung, der „Business Case“. In Wahrheit liegt Corporate Social Responsibility genau zwischen diesen zwei Polen [5].


[1] in Anlehnung an Michael Dheur (2013). CSR und Value Chain Management, Management – Reihe CSR.

[2] Schmidpeter (2012). Verantwortung Zukunft, FAZ Institut für Management.

[3] Europäische Kommission (2012). Definition CSR.

[4] Unternehmensbarometer DIHK (2012).

[5] in Anlehnung an Schmidpeter (2012). Verantwortung Zukunft, FAZ Institut für Management.

Are Sustainability and CSR Practices Here to Stay in American Business?

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.“ – Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc.

Changes in economic, social, and environmental factors have altered market conditions to such a degree that enterprises that are unwilling to integrate meaningful CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and Sustainability practices into their core corporate strategy will simply die off[1].

Since the 1970s, CSR and Sustainability have been relegated to the fringes of American business thought. In large part stemming from the considerable influence of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School’s doctrine, which asserted that the sole metric of a company’s social responsibility should be profit maximization and the creation of shareholder value[2]. More recently, academia and business have come to consider the Friedman Doctrine as outdated and lacking the necessary nuance to properly understand social responsibility of business[3]. Thus, enterprises have begun to move away from concentrating solely on profit maximization. The shift in the philosophy surrounding governance and the responsibility of enterprises is the direct result of substantial shifts in economic (globalization and digitalization), environmental (climate change and resource scarcity), and social factors (changes in generational consumer preferences). It is abundantly clear that failing to seriously consider these increasingly crucial factors will degrade an enterprise’s value by eroding its social license to operate[4]. For the most part, society has placed the responsibility for the integration of CSR and Sustainability programs on the shoulders of managers in industry, and investors have been slow to understand its importance, and therefore have not rewarded enterprises that implement meaningful CSR and Sustainability strategies. This is beginning to change with the rise of impact investing, which is based upon two fundamental principles, “accumulating wealth by any means followed by a turn to philanthropy in search of impact is not an efficient way to create overall value for society” and “there are investment opportunities that create both strong financial and impact returns without requiring a tradeoff”[5]. Impact investing and SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) has been increasing steadily the past decade, but those principles have been adopted to a greater degree in the venture capital and private equity space[6] than capital markets and institutional investors.

2018 is the inflection point in which CSR and Sustainability have finally entered the lexicon of the uppermost tier of American finance. As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, called on CEOs to fundamentally reexamine their companies’ value proposition, “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate”[7]. His open letter represents a fundamental break from the conventional finance philosophy and represents a call to action to the American finance elite, who are well-schooled in the self-correcting nature of Adam Smith’s invisible hand and the Friedman doctrine.

Why is this important? While the notion of impact investing has existed for the past several decades, it was mostly considered to be the domain of small and middle market private funds, NGOs, and non-profits, and it traditionally delivered below market returns[8]. It was not considered to be of interest to large financial players that are driven by returns, not social impact.

However, given the fact that there has been a considerable amount of academic research that has demonstrated that there is, in fact, a positive correlation between performance on ESG matrices and overall financial returns[9], investors have begun to take notice. After the 2008 financial crisis, business leaders have started to recognize the dangers of short-sighted strategies driven by an obsession with quarterly results, which have been only reinforced by the West’s seeming fixation on short-term success[10]. By serving all stakeholders, instead of only shareholders, enterprises can gain competitive advantages by approaching their strategy in a holistic manner that puts the long-term sustainability of their business over short-term profit maximization[11]. An even more telling example and one that ties directly into Larry Fink’s words is that the average holding period of a stock was just 22 seconds in 2014, compared to four years after the end of the second world war[12]. However, enterprises that prioritize the long-term viability and health of their business tend to get penalized in the short-term by markets, thus making the paradox of short and long-term strategy even more difficult to navigate. There is an obsession with hot money[13] and high-frequency trading that has significantly altered the structure of the market, creating levels of volatility that result in levels of uncertainty that affect the strategic decision-making of companies. This “short-termism” is not only being driven by human tendencies, but also by the proliferation of short-term passive investment vehicles, which has altered the structure of the market. ETFs (Electronically Traded Funds), whose algorithms fail to consider “real world” factors other than financial information. By only interpreting financial statements and not possessing the ability to consider unpredictable real-world events, companies are penalized for activities that active investors would not penalize.

One might ask how this tie into sustainability and more importantly Larry Fink’s letter? Essentially, investors are beginning to look for companies that successfully balance the paradox of short and long-term thinking and strategy, as companies that think further out into the future strategically perform better[14]. However, markets are significantly trailing business in their understanding of the strategic importance for companies in engaging in meaningful CSR and Sustainability practices. Therefore, it has become almost self-evident to leaders in that they need to adjust their business model and operations to remain competitive in the long run. But what has not shifted is the way that most investors evaluate companies, they are still primarily concerned with short-term performance, and are reluctant to hold stocks for extended periods of time. This creates a tremendous problem for CEOs, as they are being pulled in two different directions simultaneously. They need to ensure that they address long-term strategic concerns, whilst putting up acceptable quarterly returns for investors. One can see how this presents a problem for companies, as it is a chicken and egg problem, allocate resources for CSR and sustainability activities, or continue to focus on short-term results and continue to please investors.

The only way to solve this problem is to fundamentally change investor behavior, and business needs to convince investors to hold stocks for increasing periods of time, which would provide the necessary stability for companies to implement strategies that ensure their long-term competitiveness. This really underscores the importance of Larry Fink’s letter, because he is giving industry leaders the license to reexamine and readjust their business models to adapt to the coming changes.

We see this as being a pivotal moment in the acceptance of Sustainability and CSR as legitimate strategic concepts in the American business psyche. And while it represents a significant step in the right direction, the flood is coming and those who do not fundamentally rethink their businesses will be left off the ark.

About the Authors

Prof. Dr. René Schmidpeter holds the Dr. Juergen Meyer Endowed Chair of International Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility at Cologne Business School (CBS), Germany. He is also a professor at the Nanjing University of Finance and Economics and an Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. He is a series editor for Springer’s CSR, Sustainability, Ethics and Governance books, a section editor of the Encyclopedia of Corporate Social Responsibility (ECSR) and an editor of the Dictionary of Corporate Social Responsibility (DCSR) as well as Editor-inChief of the International Journal of CSR (Springer).

Haden Garth Cosman is a master’s student in International Business – Strategic Management and Consulting at the Cologne Business School. In his current role at CASM, he is primarily responsible for the management and support of research and other assorted publications. He completed his bachelor’s in International Political Economy, with a focus on Economic Development, and German Language at Fordham University in New York, and has professional experience in the finance and consulting sectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

[1] See Definition of Strategic Drift and Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1966). The social psychology of organizations. New York: Wiley.

[2] Friedman, M. (1970). “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”. The New York Times.

[3] McKinsey Global Institute. (2009). Valuing Corporate Social Responsibility: McKinsey Global Survey Results; McKinsey Global Institute. (2011).The Business of Sustainability: McKinsey Global Survey Results.

[4] Heuskel, D., Lewis, T., & Reeves, M. (2010). “Social Advantage”. The Boston Consulting Group Publications.

[5] Seegull, F. (2018). “From Milton Friedman to Larry Fink—The Rise of Impact Investing”. Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Impact Insights.

[6] EY Global Private Equity Advisory (2017), “Profit and Purpose: Impact Investing Goes Mainstream”. EY Private Equity Hot Topics.

[7] Fink, L (2018). “A Sense of Purpose”. BlackRock, INC.

[8] EY Global Private Equity Advisory (2017), “Profit and Purpose: Impact Investing Goes Mainstream”. EY Private Equity Hot Topics.

[9] Bassen, A., Busch, T., & Friede, G., (2015). “ESG and financial performance: aggregated evidence from more than 2000 empirical studies”. Journal of Sustainable Finance & Investment.

[10] Barton, D. (2011). “Capitalism for the Long Term”. Harvard Business Review.

[11] Gordon, M. (2014): Ira Sohn Investment Conference Presentation.

[12] Gordon, M. (2014). Ira Sohn Investment Conference Presentation.

[13] Constable, S. (2018). “What is Hot Money”. Wall Street Journal.

[14] Barton, D., Manyika, J., & Williamson, K, S. “Finally, Evidence that Managing for Pays Off”. Harvard Business Review.

Ed Freeman

Stakeholder and Responsible Leadership – Ed Freeman

In this interview, Ed Freeman, the founder of the stakeholder theory, provides valuable insight on how to overcome stereotypes about “academics” and “practitioners”, to create positive social impact. He also discuss the  essentially of communication and notes that one of the reasons why this conference series has been so successful is due to the informal time that academics and practitioners spend together.

(1) Ed, you are known as the founding father of the stakeholder theory. What motivated you to postulate this theory?

My understanding of what has been done may be a bit different from others.  I was simply trying to make sense of what “business” really was.  I had recently gotten my PhD in Philosophy and had no experience with business, and I found myself with a Post-doc at Wharton.  It seemed to me like every business I saw was trying to create value for customers, suppliers, employees, communities, and financiers.  I took this as obvious and common sense, not a “theory” at all.  I’ve tried to pursue this understanding of business for the last 40 years.  I get way too much credit for “stakeholder theory”.

(2) The topic of The 8th International Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility is, “Responsible Leadership in Times of Transformation”. What role does the stakeholder theory play with respect to responsible leadership?

Once again I have to confess being naieve.  I didn’t know that business schools and business theorists separated “business” from “ethics” (and responsibility).  I was trying to give a useful answer to the questions of (1) How can businesses thrive in times of instability and uncertainty? (2) How do we address the issue of the ethics of capitalism? and, (3) What should we be teaching in business schools?  Business and responsibility have always seemed intimately connected to me.  I originally thought that positivism was long dead having been killed at least by Wittgenstein and the pragmatist philosophers of the 1950s.  I was surprised to find it alive and thriving (especially today) at business schools all over the world.

(3) In your opinion, what are some of the pressing challenges facing stakeholders in times of transformation (e.g. considering digitalization or increased fragmentation of stakeholders)?

One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with some incredible technological advances, and since that is really technically impossible, it is imperative to be able to trust others.  The role of ethics and integrity is more important than ever.

(4) At the conference we aim to connect academics and practitioners. What do you think are the most significant challenges and opportunities that arise from a such format?

The biggest issue is how to really listen to each other, and establish some trust.  Academics aren’t the best listeners, and practitioners don’t always have the most open minds.  The challenges of communication are fairly substantial.  One of the highlights of this conference in the past has been the informal time to spend with both other academics and practitioners.  All seem to want to have better relationships and more communication.

(5) How can we use this conference to create or foster societal impact?

Perhaps, out of the communication will come some new ideas, embodied in some new projects that can make a difference.  Getting rid of old stereotypes about “academics” and “practitioners” can really help here.

(6) What do you personally hope for this conference to accomplish?

Conferences can inspire people to do important work.  I see that as part of my role as an academic:  to inspire colleagues, students, and practitioners to figure out how to create value for their stakeholders, and make the world a better place for our children.

Thank you for your time!

About the Author

R. Edward Freeman is University Professor and Elis and Signe Olsson Professor of Business Administration; Senior Fellow of the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics; Academic Director of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics; and Co-Academic Director of the Institute for Business in Society. He is also Adjunct Professor of Stakeholder Management at the Copenhagen Business School, and Adjunct Professor at Monash University (Melbourne). Mr. Freeman taught previously at the University of Minnesota, and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. 

Freeman’s latest book, Business: The New Story, with Bidhan Parmar and Kirsten Martin will be published by Columbia University Press in 2019,  A previous book, Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2010 (co-authored with J. Harrison, A. Wicks, B.Parmar, and S. de Colle.) He is the author or editor of over twenty volumes and one hundred articles in the areas of stakeholder management, business strategy and business ethics. Freeman is perhaps best known for his award winning book: Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, published in 1984.

Freeman has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Washington University, and a B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Duke University. He was recently awarded four honorary doctorates in economics and management (DHC) from Comillas University in Madrid, from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki and Sherbrooke University in Canada for his work on stakeholder theory and business ethics. Mr. Freeman is a lifelong student of philosophy, martial arts, and the blues. He is a co-principal in Red Goat Records, LLC found at For more information, go to

René Schmidpeter

Responsible Leadership in Times of Transformation

The world is rapidly changing. Digital transformation, sustainable management and industry 4.0 are already the reality. This not only affects our workplaces and businesses, but also academia and education. Instead of linear conventional thinking, managers need innovative skills, such as cooperation and social competences. The whole world has access to the internet’s unlimited knowledge base and an increasing number of people have the ability and means to access it every day. In order to properly utilize this continuously growing and changing knowledge base, leaders have to develop new skills and enhance personal abilities. New skills can only be developed in an open and free setting without the limitations of ideologies and old mindsets.

Organizations, as well as their leaders and employees benefit from these recent developments. On the one hand, people become part of global information and knowledge network caused by digitalization, on the other hand personal excellence and creativity becomes more valuable in the value creation process. Intuitive knowledge, personal values, as well as a clear orientation towards the future are gaining importance and seen as necessary mindsets to foster innovation and drive sustainable development.

Currently Academia is going through a transformation itself. We need to develop new content (e.g. sustainable management), new methods (innovation and creativity, unique experiences, free thinking), and governance structures (open networks, co-creation and dynamic learning organizations). The question remains: How can we achieve all this? How can we develop innovative leadership approaches and new education systems at the same time? How can we re-organize academia and management, so that we can create value from the under-utilized ecological, social and entrepreneurial potential, which lies within all of us and our organizations? What does a co-creation process of knowledge and responsible leadership look like? How can we have a positive impact on current transformation processes?

Management and Academia will change fundamentally within the next decade. It is not going to be enough to only provide the same opportunities for the next generations. Instead, we need to INCREASE opportunities for current and future generations NOW. This new vision for business and universities will empower even more people, especially managers, to change out-dated structures and organizations, and pioneer responsible leadership that will create more opportunities for all of us. If one examines the changes from this perspective, the current transformation is the biggest opportunity of our lifetime! Academic conferences like the PRME and the Humboldt conference represent a tremendous opportunity to build new collaborations across disciplines, between business and academia, as well as between different cultures and continents, so that we can achieve these new goals together. Times of transformation are always different from previous times, that’s why every person and their unique competencies and skills count! That’s why I hope to see you all in Cologne from 12th till 16th in November 2018.

About the Author

Prof. Dr. René Schmidpeter holds the Dr. Juergen Meyer Endowed Chair of International Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility at Cologne Business School (CBS), Germany. He is also a professor at the Nanjing University of Finance and Economics and Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. He is a series editor for Springer’s CSR, Sustainability, Ethics and Governance books, a section editor of the Encyclopedia of Corporate Social Responsibility (ECSR) and an editor of the Dictionary of Corporate Social Responsibility (DCSR) as well as Editor-in Chief of the International Journal of CSR (Springer).