by Unboxed Staff | June 22, 2020 | 5 Min Read

Corporate Sustainability vs. CSR: What’s the Difference?

Generating growth by joining forces

Recently, businesses worldwide have started placing a greater emphasis on sustainability. Companies have all kinds of motivations for these investments. Thirty-three percent of companies are prioritizing sustainability to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency. Others invest in corporate citizenship best practices for a short-lived media boost.

As businesses continue taking steps to be more sustainable, the term "corporate sustainability" is thrown around a lot. Some even confuse corporate sustainability with other terms like "corporate social responsibility" (CSR).

Read on to learn how to recognize corporate sustainability from CSR. You'll also find some practical advice on how you can implement both initiatives in your company.

What Is Corporate Sustainability?

The term "corporate sustainability" describes a new corporate management model. It can also fall under the broader term "environmental social governance" (ESG).

Corporate sustainability emphasizes growth and profitability through intentional business practices in three areas of society. The goal is to provide long-term value for stakeholders without compromising people, the planet, or the economy.

Let's dive deeper into the three pillars of corporate sustainability.

1. The Environmental Pillar

The environmental pillar is often the most talked-about of the three pillars of corporate sustainability. It includes the various actions companies can take to reduce their environmental impact and carbon footprint.

Examples include reducing packaging waste, reducing water usage, recycling materials, and using sustainable energy sources.

2. The Social Pillar

The social pillar focuses on a company seeking the approval of its stakeholders, employees, and the local community. A big part of corporate sustainability is a company's dedication to taking good care of people inside and outside of the business.

Social pillar practices include eliminating child labor, offering paternity and maternity leave, and giving back to the community.

3. The Economic Pillar

The economic pillar involves implementing sustainable business practices to promote long term profitability. After all, a company can't have a positive impact on the environment or community if it's not profitable.

Elements of the economic pillar include compliance and good corporate governance. Meaning, the values of stakeholders and management align in terms of how to spend resources. The economic pillar makes it possible for a company to strategize and invest in new corporate sustainability methods.

All that said, no one pillar should overshadow the others. Otherwise, businesses get caught trying to cut corners and increase profits unethically.

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a broader concept than corporate sustainability. In short, “[CSR] helps a company be socially accountable—to itself, its stakeholders, and the public."

A company that engages in CSR operates in a way that enhances society, both locally and globally. CSR is a long-term strategy that is never temporary and always evolving.

Starbucks, for example, is known for upholding exceptional standards of corporate social responsibility. The company sells ethically sourced coffee and happily promotes its global farmer's network. Starbucks also developed a groundbreaking college achievement plan designed exclusively for employees.

CSR has multiple facets, and not all organizations can invest in all of them. The goal is not to invest in every initiative possible. Start small by making changes in your organization and community.

Similarities Between CSR and Corporate Sustainability

Both CSR and corporate sustainability focus on helping companies run in a way that allows them to be ethically profitable—never at the expense of others. Both CSR and corporate sustainability help companies make a positive impact on those around them.

These two concepts are closely related. After all, corporate sustainability is part of corporate social responsibility. But, there are some key differences between them.

3 Differences Between Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Sustainability

Below are the three main differences between CSR and corporate sustainability.


  • CSR often looks backward and reflects on what a company has done to contribute to society.
  • Corporate sustainability looks forward and develops a sustainable strategy for the future.


  • The targets of CSR initiatives are often opinion formers (e.g., media, politicians, and pressure groups).
  • Corporate sustainability looks at the whole value chain (i.e., everyone from end-consumers to stakeholders).


  • The motivation and driving force behind CSR initiatives is to protect a company's reputation.
  • For corporate sustainability, the drive has more to do with creating new opportunities for emerging markets.

CSR vs. Philanthropy

In case you were wondering, CSR and philanthropy are also different. CSR often includes charity work, which is part of philanthropy, but they're not the same. Philanthropy, on its own, does not often require a business to change its operations.

A person can be philanthropic, but since a person is not a corporation, CSR does not apply to them. A company, on the other hand, can be charitable and engage in corporate social responsibility.

Start Prioritizing CSR and Sustainability Today

Corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability are distinct practices. However, when it comes to building a positive business reputation and long-term success, it’s best to invest in both initiatives.

Ready to change your business practices? Update or define your core values? Train your employees on how to support your company's efforts to be a good corporate citizen?

Contact our team at Unboxed Training & Technology to learn more about our custom employee training resources. We can't wait to help you implement the perfect training program into your LMS or Spoke®.

Get advice from an industry expert about how to effectively transition to virtual training using our custom solutions.

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