Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain! The difference between CSR and Sustainability.

What is the difference between CSR and Sustainability?

I get asked this question a lot and so I thought it would be good to provide a clear and concise response. Here is an explanation of both.

Sustainability balances resource usage and supplies over time thus ensuring that future generations will have the resources that we do.  In short, it is ensuring that we don’t make use of resources faster than they can be replenished.

Corporate Social Responsibility, balances stakeholder interests. Some for the good, some for the not so good. The common approach is based on principles, values, and ethics and there is little doubt that many companies are good at balancing competing demands.

Good Example:

Part of Dell’s commitment to sustainability is to create designs for environment programs, which includes integration of alternative, recycled and recyclable materials in their product and packaging design, improvement in energy efficiency, and design for end-of-life and recyclability. The computer technology company also aims to lessen their energy consumption by 80% by 2020 as part of their Legacy of Good Plan.

There are sustainable approaches to agriculture, construction, projects, etc.  Each focus from their corporate context on balance.

Unfortunately, many “responsible” firms consume resources and capital that should be allocated for the future, which can perpetuate an imbalance in the availability of resources, short and long term.

Good CSR Example:

A Platform for Action and Partnership.

On April 1st, Google, along with Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, filed a legal brief with the DC Circuit Court supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The CPP aims to accelerate the transition to cleaner sources of electricity and puts an emphasis on renewable energy development and energy efficiency. The plan has been put on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have come together in this brief to offer our unique view as large consumers of energy. Collectively we used 10 million MWh of electricity last year, including at 50 data centers in 12 states. That means reliable and affordable electricity is integral to the continued growth and operation of all of our businesses and the services we offer to our users everywhere. We are all committed to sourcing our power in a sustainable way, and renewable energy makes good business sense for us all.   For more on this case >>

Not so Good Example

Supporting Sustainable Development in some regards but ignoring it in critical areas.

Walmart has focused on efficiency for years.  They have been recognized as a leader reducing Co2 from supply chain emissions.  In 2013 at the UN leader summit, Miller Brewing Company shared how Walmart had helped them to reduce water consumption on barley crops to use only what was necessary.  ++Good Sustainability Practice++ 

On the CSR side, they have a wonderful foundation that provides funds to charities and employees can have their contributions matched.

Unfortunately, Walmart doesn’t pay employees a livable wage.  This is a well documented and US taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart because they are too greedy to pay their people.

CSR is a way for them to put up a smoke screen on bad business practices.

In order to tie value to both your CSR and sustainability practices, the entire organization, it’s practices, supply chains, products and projects must align with sustainability principles and in doing so drive value back to the business.

Our approach does exactly that! How would your organization rate?

Want to know how to tie value to sustainability that speaks to all stakeholders?  Our PSM3 is the most cost affordable way to give you the piece of mind that your business, your projects, are not at risk for being on the consumer wall of shame?  We can help.


Visit us at for more on resiliency!


Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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