A major challenge in the field of corporate social responsibility is the number of definitions for common terms like CSR and sustainability.

At a recent conference on CSR and digital technology, held recently on the prestigious Bocconi University campus in Milan, we agreed that these terms and concepts, as well as the criteria used to measure them, must be standardized. Until this is done, we will continue comparing that which is incomparable.

Responsibility for CSR is another area of contention which was reflected both in the presentations and the discussions which ensued. Is it the government’s responsibility? Individuals? Institutions? The business sector in general?

From a business perspective, one solution derived from a keynote speaker, Paolo D’Anselmi, who spoke about the importance of standardizing GRI (Global Reporting Initiative, an independent standards organization) reporting, so company CSR performance can be measured on a fair scale.

One particularly fascinating topic at the two-day conference was ‘Economy of Communion’ (EoC) presented by a Croatian scholar, Maja. Simply, EoC began in the 1990s with the idea that small commercial profits could be distributed to those in need, thus nurturing a ‘culture of giving’.

On the sidelines of the conference, Maja explained that future managers are being trained to consider the CSR implications and the ‘culture of giving’ when practising business.

Obviously, traditional CSR/sustainability issues such as solar panels, carbon reduction, wind power, and fossil fuels were also discussed. My particular contribution to the conference consisted of a presentation on CSR communication as linked to corporate reputation and financial performance in Global 100 companies. Through all the presentations, the bottom line (not the triple bottom line, although that was discussed at length) is that CSR will continue to be a vast and promising research area for years to come.

Numerous participants presented topics regarding hotel and restaurant CSR initiatives, from the sustainable consumption movement in Poland, to Finnish 4-star hotels’ engagement/disengagement through CSR communication. Other projects covered strategic image management of luxury hotel brands, consumer perceptions of hotel CSR communication on online platforms, CSR communication through websites, Facebook, and Twitter in the UK, small, independent restaurants, and the perceived added value of CSR communication to hotels. I was pleased to see so many studies focusing on hospitality and hope to collaborate with these authors on future projects.

On day two, Dr. Caroline Dale Ditlev-Simonsen spoke about social phenomena called ‘nudges’ where small, practically imperceptible actions can have consequential implications. Her poignant example was that of ‘spillage’ in the men’s bathrooms at an airport. To reduce the spillage, and the hygiene issues linked to it, employees placed a sticker of a fly inside the urinals. Ironically, the aim improved and the spillage was reduced drastically. This is a great example of how one ‘nudge’ can lead to a cleaner planet (or, at least, cleaner public restrooms).

Like all conferences, I learned just as much during the breaks as I had during the sessions. For example, during a lunch break, I spoke to an Indian scholar, Shireesh, who had presented a paper on the Indian educational system and CSR.  Amidst bites of pizza, I asked if it was common practice for successful Indians to give back to their educational system in India. His response was the following: there was an Indian man from a wealthy family who completed his studies abroad at Harvard University. The man returned to India and proceeded to make his own fortune. When the time came to donate money for education, he chose to donate to … Harvard! Shireesh reflected that Harvard probably doesn’t need Indian money, but until cultural mindsets change, money will go to the alma mater, not the country of origin.

To conclude the conference, the head of the organizing committee, Dr. Elio Borgonovi, summarized our discussions and reflected on society 4.0. Dr. Borgonovi suggested that the only way humankind can be sustainable in society 4.0 is to use our free time investing in arts and culture, and let robots and technology do the rest …


Conference Title: 5th International Conference on Social Responsibility, Ethics, and Sustainable Business

Venue: Bocconi University, Milan, IT

Dates: October 6-7, 2016

Conference Theme: Corporate Social Responsibility in the Digital Economy



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Dr. Laura Zizka

Professor Assistant - Communication/Academic writing

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Nationality: Swiss, American

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