Most design activities are an attempt to improve the world that we live and sustainability has expanded the alternatives for design contribution for a better world by challenging the very nature of design activity. From being part of the problem design now has been asked to be part of the solution. In this sense the present report explores how design can contribute to the social dimension of sustainability within a corporate setting. It also shows that social responsibility should be part of every design activity and that the work of design within companies with a focus on this issue is a viable career for professional designers.
Social equity and cohesion need to be in the fore front of corporate agenda in order to lead society to more sustainable patterns of consumption and production.
Business constitute a powerful force capable of influence equity and social cohesion worldwide. Rudge (2008) argues that companies can contribute with the provision of ways to reduce or compensate for the governance gaps created by globalization. Indeed, Grauwe & Camerman (2002) found that that of the 100 largest economies, 63 are countries and 37 are corporations. Design can contribute to channel this economical power on a positive way both from the business as well as from society perspective. The task is highly complex and demands great amount of creativity and strategic vision, two core qualities of the design profession.
General efforts towards equity worldwide have been boosted by the UN Millennium Goals. Recent report on the results of this global action (UN, 2007) has showed that poverty reduction was slowly being achieved around the world. However, the same report calls attention to the fact that such reduction has been accompanied by rising inequality. That means that the benefits of economic growth in the developing world have been unequally shared, both within and among countries. The UN (2007) report also shows that between 1990 and 2004 the share of national consumption by the poorest fifth of the population in developing regions decreased from 4.6 to 3.9 per cent. Widening income inequality is of particular concern in Eastern Asia, where the share of consumption among the poorest people declined dramatically during this period. Meanwhile, Latin America and the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa remain with the highest level of inequality. In these regions the poorest fifth of the people account for only about 3 per cent of national consumption (or income) (UN, 2007).
The “promotion of gender equality and empowerment” has shown a progress, according to the UN (2007) report. Indeed, women’s participation in paid, non-agricultural employment has continued to increase slowly. The study shows that the greatest gains occur in some of the regions where women have shown in previous studies the least presence in the labour market – in Southern Asia, Western Asia and Oceania. The data shows that in Northern Africa, where women’s participation is also low, progress has been insignificant but still only one in five paid employees in that region is a woman. In other regions, women are slowly gaining access to jobs on equal terms to man or, in the case of the CIS, exceeding it (UN, 2007).
A contribution to change the current status of social equity around the world demands active contributions from all professions and from all spheres of our society. On this report we present the contributions that can be achieved through companies and how the design professional can contribute to conceive creative solutions for companies striving to achieve a social responsible business.
Social equity and cohesion, in all its dimensions, is a prerequisite for companies looking to contribute to sustainable development and, at the same time, it offers strategic benefits for the companies willing to make such contribution. In the case of design, there is already a framework of principles and general strategies that can support actions in practice. This set of knowledge can be found under the heading “Corporate Social Responsibility” and it is defined in the next section.
1.2 Defining Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
There is a wide variety of terminologies related to social responsibility within companies and that can be quite confusing for designers, even for those that have already some knowledge on the field. Some of the names include: corporate responsibility, corporate accountability, corporate ethics, corporate citizenship, sustainability, stewardship, triple bottom line and responsible business. Fortunately the goal of achieving of a sustainable society remains the same within all these terminologies.
On this report Corporate Social Responsibility deals solely with the social dimension of the “Corporate Responsibilities” and it is related to the Triple Bottom Line pillars of sustainable development, as represented on the next figure (WBCSD, 1999). Thus, the working definition adopted here puts CSR as a continuous business process that contributes to achieve an equitable and social cohesive society. A similar but more detailed definition is provided by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development: CSR “is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large” (WBCSD, 1998).
Figure 1 – Triple Bottom Line translated into Corporate Responsibility
All three pillars of Corporate Responsibility are interconnected and, therefore, positive/negative results in one pillar might affect positively/negatively the other pillars (HARWOOD & HUMBY, 2008). Thus, in practice, social, economical and environmental dimension have to be applied in harmony in order to provide the best possible results.
The working definition of CSR with a focus solely on the social dimension avoids possible semantic problems due to the absence of environment and economical dimension on its heading. However, there are a number of institutions and authors that integrate the environmental and economical dimension into CSR. The European Commission (EC), for instance, defines CSR as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis” (CEC, 2001; CEC, 2002). Similarly, the Canadian Government presents CSR as “the way firms integrate social, environmental and economic concerns into their values, culture, decision making, strategy and operations in a transparent and accountable manner and thereby establish better practices within the firm, create wealth and improve society“ (CANADA, 2006).
It is becoming common practice for decision-makers to address the economical pillar of sustainability, and over the last decade, growing attention has been given to the environmental pillar. However, the pillar associated with the social dimension of sustainability is still poorly understood, both in theory and practice. That is another reason for a specific focus on the social dimension of CSR.
Within CSR companies move beyond a base of legal compliance to integrating socially responsible behaviour into their core values (COLLINS, 2008. Canada (2006) presents a number of “beyond the law” commitments and activities that fit within the scope of CSR:
• corporate governance and ethics;
• health and safety;
• environmental stewardship; human rights (including core labour rights); human resource management;
• community involvement, development and investment;
• involvement of and respect for aboriginal peoples;
• corporate philanthropy and employee volunteering;
• customer satisfaction and adherence to principles of fair competition;
• anti-bribery and anti-corruption measures;
• accountability, transparency and performance reporting;
• supplier relations, for both domestic and international supply chains.
In contrast to this view of “beyond the law” responsibilities some have argued that the only social responsibility of a business organization is to deliver profits to its owners/shareholders. However, although economic responsibilities remain fundamental to business survival, society often has a number of other expectations from businesses that involve since philanthropic donations as well as the promotion of healthcare, childcare, and educational opportunities. These societal expectations are in fact social responsibilities (Hutchins & Sutherland, 2008).
Hence, the “voluntary” nature of CSR as presented on the European Union definition clearly is not sufficient to protect workers and citizen rights and the need for pro-activeness to change our current development problems. Trade unions and civil society organizations argue advocate for a regulatory framework establishing minimum standards (CEC, 2002). A balanced approach between voluntary activities and imposed activities seems to be a more reasonable way forward on this issue.
It is important to emphasize that CSR is much more a process, or a journey, than a objective itself. It usually implies a long term, and quite often radical, transformation of the business (GRAYSON, 2008). Companies have different reactions to the social responsibility challenge. Usually the initial stage of such phenomena involves reactive responses from external pressures (e.g.: setting a social project to compensate for the negative social impact of a given business process). On a more advanced stage (see Porter & Kramer, 2002) companies began to see actual business opportunities on being socially responsible, enhancing both social as well as economical impacts of its activities by treating CSR with a strategic view. Kovács (2008) argues that further evolutions on this direction are characterized by companies having pro-active role on networks to tackle global issues. In all this levels the designer can have an operational, tactical and strategic role.
Finally, the term “corporate” might bring the idea that CSR is suitable only for large multinational companies. The truth is that many SMEs are already implementing socially and environmentally responsible practices without being familiar with the CSR concept or communicating their activities. The CEC (2002) survey had found out that 50% of the European SME´s at that time have already carried out some CSR activity. The study have identified that SME´s community and social engagement was characterised as being local in scope, occasional in nature, and unrelated to business strategy and with the owner/manager as the main driver (CEC, 2002). Thus, in general terms CSR principles can be applied both in large as well as small companies and the size of the company affects solely the tactical approaches for its implementation.
1.3 Historical Background
The belief that everyone, by virtue of her or his humanity, is entitled to certain human rights is fairly new and the application of such belief within companies has an even shorter story. Throughout much of human history, people acquired rights and responsibilities through their membership into a group, ranging from his/her family, to an indigenous nation, a religion, a class, community, or state. The Hindu Vedas, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, the Bible, the Quran (Koran), and the Analects of Confucius are examples of ancient written sources which address questions of people’s duties, rights, and responsibilities and throughout history they have affected the way of people doing business. In fact, as Flowers (2008) argues, all societies have always had some oral or written system of propriety and justice as well as ways of tending to the health and welfare of their members.
Figure 2 – Timeline on key influences on our current understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility
Documents asserting individual rights, such the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights (1791) are the written precursors to many of today’s human rights instruments. Oppressed people throughout the world have drawn on the principles of these documents express to support revolutions that affect the way business has began to evolve in the direction of social responsibility.
McDonough & Braungart (2002) argues that many early industrialists have had already the assumption that progress of industrialization would result on a more equitable distribution of comfort amongst all social classes. Indeed, with cheaper products, widespread of public transportation, water distribution and sanitation, waste collection, and other conveniences have given people, both rich and poor, what appeared to a more equitable standard of living. This ideal was epitomized on the legendary Model T that Ford dreamed “… so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one” (~1910).
However, WBCSD (1999) argues that these early industrialists did little to tackle the rising dissatisfaction with the most obvious inequalities of the early industrial societies. The resulting disillusion with the excesses of capitalism contributed to the new ideologies of communism and socialism and to states taking greater responsibility for the provision of welfare and infrastructure (WBCSD, 1999).
A more systematic concern on social issues within corporations can be traced on the earlier work studies that, despite the relentless focus on increasing efficiency, have contributed to effectively improve the quality of the work environment. On that period (~1910) the work of Lilian Gilbreth, one of the pioneers on industrial psychology, shows examples of efforts to improve our understanding about the worker’s personalities and needs (Weihrisch & Koontz, 1993).
Taylor himself, one of the founders of the scientific management school, that lead us to high efficient production system, also considering human aspects as an important factor for achieving sustainable improvements in production. He claimed that business and labour should work together to undergo a “complete revolution in mental attitude” and to realise the shared benefits of maximising income through maximisation of output. He believed that when managers and workers shared this common goal it would be easier to eliminate political controversy and make governing an organisation a purely technical matter of finding the “one best way” (Taylor, 1911; Wren, 1994).
However, most factory owners throughout the world on the beginning of the industrial period have relatively little concern with social issues. As the workers began to organize themselves this situation began to change. Collectively they started to restrict output using strikes and demand higher wages (WREN, 1994). During this period, more precisely in 1919, countries established the International Labor Organization (ILO) to oversee treaties protecting workers with respect to their rights, including their health and safety.
By the late 1920’s, researchers and practitioners started to experiment on, and write more about, industrial psychology and social theories. In the beginning, such research focused more on helping industry find people whose mental qualities were best suited for their jobs. They also tried to find those psychological conditions that could stimulate and influence workers in such a way as to obtain the best possible results from them (Weihrisch & Koontz, 1993; McFarland, 1979).
The turning point in this human focused research came with the study carried out by Western Electric managers and Harvard University researchers at the Hawthorne works, near Chicago, from 1924 until 1932. Originally, this study sought to confirm Taylor's principle that more lighting in the workplace would result in greater productivity. However, to the amazement of the researchers, the experiment showed productivity rising still further even with a decrease in illumination. The investigation then turned its attention to the relationship between managers and workers, still aiming for the manipulation of workers to maximise the output (Mayo, 1949; Barnes, 1980:283; Wren, 1994; Weihrisch & Koontz, 1993). After a number of experiments, they finally concluded that the improvements in productivity happened almost solely due to social factors such as moral and satisfactory inter-relationships within the production team. The study also showed that just the fact of being chosen for the study motivated workers to continually improve production regardless of the working environment (Mayo, 1949; Wren, 1994; Weihrisch & Koontz, 1993; Lee & Schniederjans, 1994).
During this period the idea of CSR was not in the international policy agenda and discussions on corporate responsibilities largely concentrated on employee rights and internal governance issues. This continued until well after the Second World War, when in Western Europe and Japan, business paid its taxes and the state largely took care of social welfare affairs (WBCSD, 1999).
On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the 56 members of the United Nations. That has trigger a revolution in international law changing how governments treat their own citizens, putting this as a matter of legitimate international concern, and not simply a domestic issue (FLOWER, 2008). Adding to this factor, according to WBCSD (1999), the late 1950s saw the beginning of the rise of consumer power as a force to influence corporate behaviour and that could be presented as the genesis of our current understanding on Corporate Social Responsibility.
CSR began to rise to prominence in the 1960s, by directing attention to the interests of other groups in society in contrast to a narrow interest in economic gain through profit maximization (MCKIE, 1975 apud KENT & STONE, 2007). In the early 1970s this movement was joined by environmental concerns and the growth of single-issue pressure groups.
Strictly within the architecture/design community the ideal of equity began to reflect on the development of products and environments that reflect this ideal. Such concerns were mirrored on the International Style Movement since their goals were both social as well as aesthetic. They wanted to globally replace unsanitary and inequitable housing with clean, minimalist, affordable housing without a clear distinction of wealth or class (MCDONOUGH & BRAUNGART (2002). However, many of the good intentions of such initiatives have been deviated throughout time from their original values and end up with a rebound effect on the environment and on the social equity itself.
Since the 1980s, dramatic political and economic changes around the world have brought social responsibility issues to the main front of the business strategies. WBCSD (1999) argues that such phenomenon is associated with the rise of libertarian values in Western politics and the collapse of communism and other ideologies. On that decade, especially in the US and the UK, there was a radical re-think of the respective roles of the state and business in society. The dominant idea at the time was to shrink the role of the state – especially to reduce the cost of state-funded welfare and cultural obligations – and to place greater responsibility on the individual and on business (WBCSD, 1999).
The political view on the role of state is in constant shift as economy floats on various crisis on the 1990s and 2000´s and quite often there resurgence of increase public ownership of private companies of strategic areas. Nevertheless, the demand for an increase role of companies on the promotion of equity and cohesion has remained. Such concern evolved to attempts for strategically manage the social dimension within companies and to develop tools to systematically implement and operate this issue within entire organizations and their sphere of influence (CEC, 2002). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and ILO core conventions provide some of the main fundamental principles for these initiatives (RUDGE, 2008).
Social responsibility is still evolving and there no universal solutions for companies involved on CSR activities. What is certain is that CSR is a moving target that cannot be fully achieved by one-time activities and decisions. It needs to be understood as a continuous process that requires constant revision and reflection based upon equity and cohesion principles. Businesses should be alert to new issues and considerations (CANADA, 2006).
1.4 A New Epistemology of Design after CSR
Design can play a fundamental role in the definition and visualization of alternative scenarios for companies striving to implement CSR initiatives in the direction of sustainability. In order to achieve such goal design has to re-examine its fundamental concepts such as form, function, client, user, and market, as well as the role of technology, aesthetics and the role of designer itself (MANZINI, 1994). It requires that the integration of wider competencies that enable the designer to move from simple end-of-pipe solutions to more complex issues such as equity and cohesion (see illustration on the next figure). On this perspective the designer needs to wider its impact on the real world from mere design of new products to the promotion of new life styles that result in lesser consumption in the case of richer consumers, or the leapfrog on consumption patterns in the case of poor consumers.
Figure 3 – Evolution of Design Concerns over Sustainability
According to ICSID (2008) one of the main tasks of design is to seek, discover and assess structural, organizational, functional, expressive and economic relationships, with the task of enhancing global sustainability and environmental protection (global ethics); giving benefits and freedom to the entire human community, individual and collective; final users, producers and market protagonists (social ethics); supporting cultural diversity despite the globalisation of the world (cultural ethics); giving products, services and systems, those forms that are expressive of (semiology) and coherent with (aesthetics) their proper complexity. A search for equity is an underlying principle within this definition of design and one that has far reaching implications on the design practice and theory.