Corporate Social Responsibility and Firm Performance: State of the Art and Perspectives in Social, Environmental and Sustainability Performance Management
Over more than forty years many proposals have been drawn up to complement, integrate and overcome the traditional methodologies measuring the financial dimension of corporate performance. In parallel, thousands of companies, and especially the listed ones, have introduced, developed and implemented different practices of non-financial reporting. So, what is the state of the art with regard to the most important initiatives aimed at supporting companies in managing social, environmental and sustainability performance? And, what are the current corporate approaches to sustainability evaluation and reporting? In order to answer the two research questions, the study introduced a collaborative paradigm, based on a relational view of the firm, which recognizes the strategic value of stakeholder relationships. The stakeholder framework (that is, the multiple bottom line approach) is the lens adopted to conduct the study. With regard to the first question, a broad and up-to-date review of the most important standards and tools – aimed at managing, controlling, evaluating, and reporting the social, environmental and sustainability performance of companies – has been carried out. In reference to the second question, a qualitative content analysis, based on an interpretive perspective, of the current corporate practices has been conducted. The investigation mainly explored the social/CSR/sustainability reports of sixteen leading companies from four crucial industries (i.e., four firms per each of the four industries: banks, retailing, telecommunications, and utilities). In comparison with previous contributions in this area, the analysis is characterized by depth (that is, the number of items checked for every company), breadth (i.e., the number of stakeholders and documents/information sources covered), and complexity because of the interpretive nature. What emerged from the overall study is that, because of several and different reasons (essentially, complexity and the still prevailing focus on financial value for management tools; redundancy and incompleteness for corporate reports; and lack of innovation, that is, isomorphism, for both), the prevailing methodologies and the corporate evaluation and reporting activities are unable to fully assess the sustainability, that is, the quality, of the corporate relationships with the stakeholder groups. Therefore, in order to fill the gap new solutions are needed. As an attempt to address this point and reconnect theory and practice, a sustainability evaluation and reporting system, that is, the SERS2 methodology, characterized by an innovative, stakeholder-based scheme of integrated report, has been advanced.
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