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Editorial: CSR and ESG More than Good PR

Analysis

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Over the years, the Budapest Business Journal must have written countless articles on what used to be called CSR, corporate and social responsibility. It was a nebulous term, hard to pin down.

People intrinsically knew it was supposed to be a good thing. We knew that it often involved painting fences and furniture at orphanages or schools. Companies that professed to follow it were often greeted with outright skepticism. Long before “greenwashing” was an almost everyday term, there was the profoundly dismissive “It’s just another form of PR.” For some, CSR was about something much more, but those words had teeth because they were also, sometimes, true.

I attended my first CSR-branded events not long after arriving in Budapest, in the late Nineties and early Noughties. I recall one example of CSR I was told at the time, a tobacco company that sponsored the municipal ashtrays in the town where it was headquartered. Well, those were different days in many ways. The modern understanding of CSR probably goes back to the 1950s, but the website Thomas Insights, which publishes news and analysis “to keep our readers up to date on what’s happening in industry,” says you can trace it back to the Industrial Revolution. “In the mid-to-late 1800s, there was growing concern about worker well-being and productivity among industrialists.” So, CSR has a long history, but almost no one talks about it now.

That’s not something you could say about the third-party green certifying bodies. Breeam says it has been around since 1990. Online encyclopedia Britannica says the Leed standards were devised in 1994. Both have drawn criticism from skeptics who have dismissed them as yet more PR. In the 2010s, I sat in an office opposite a senior real estate professional who assured me no client would ever choose a green-certified office over something that was non-certified if cost were an issue. But as developers often tell us, the idea has long since moved from “nice to have” to “must have.” Increasingly, that is also the case for property investors. It is impossible to seriously consider a modern “A”-class office being built in Budapest today without at least one set of certificates, and frequently, two. To Breeam and Leed, you can add the likes of Well, dealing with office interiors and staff well-being, or Access4you, which was established in 2019 and assesses and certifies the “accessibility of businesses, stores, buildings, public spaces and the man-made environment in general,” according to its LinkedIn profile.

Although we might not talk much about CSR, it hasn’t really gone away; it has evolved to take in broader issues. Like those green certifications, it is now part of ESG. That’s another nebulous term covering environmental, social and governance matters, and one it seems we all discuss (along with sustainability), on a near-constant basis. So, it is high time that we presented our first Special Report dedicated to ESG matters, though we have long covered the themes. Indeed, so strong has been the response to it that we are already planning a second edition later this fall. If you have a story to tell or a message you want to share with your business partners or the wider world, do drop us a line. The skeptics can talk about greenwashing and debate push and pull factors. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter if business leads the way or public opinion (and investors) drag it kicking and screaming into a more sustainable future. Our health, and that of our planet, means there is no alternative; either way, we end up heading in the right direction.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 10, 2023.

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