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Strategic Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Communication: A

Critical Implementation Perspective

Anne Ellerup Nielsen and Christa Thomsen, ASB Centre for Corporate Communication


Studies within the field of strategic sustainability and CSR indicate that the implementation of these
areas depends on how they are organized and communicated (e.g. Boston College Center for
Corporate Citizenship 2009; Lindgreen, Swaen and Maon 2008, Matten and Moon 2008; Maon,
Lindgreen and Swaen 2009; Pomering and Dolnicar 2009). Important management tools to
successfully do so are: CSR policies and strategies (e.g. Galbreath 2008; Pollach, Johansen, Nielsen
and Thomsen 2009), management communications (e.g. Nielsen and Thomsen 2009 a; Nielsen and
Thomsen 2009b; Aggerholm, Agerholm, Asmuss and Thomsen 2009), networks or partnerships
(e.g. Seitanidi and Crane 2009; Thomsen and Lauring 2008; Lauring and Thomsen 2009), social
reports (e.g. Nielsen and Thomsen 2007), corporate websites (Nielsen 2005; Nielsen and Thomsen
2009), etc. These tools have until now been rather modestly investigated in general and specifically
within the field of strategic integrated or corporate communication (van Riel 1992; Cornelissen
2004/2008; Morsing and Beckmann 2006).

The present paper wants to contribute to this developing field of research by discussing ongoing and
completed research on strategic sustainability and CSR communication conducted by the authors
since 2005, and to do this in a revisited/critical implementation perspective. The research
investigates how different communication tools are used in companies to build and maintain
stakeholder relations and enhance the image and reputation of the company. The theoretical
frameworks drawn on are: CSR, sustainability and business ethics, corporate communication,
corporate branding and stakeholder management. Questions raised are:
• To which extent is sustainability and corporate social responsibility linked to strategy or
business plans in Danish companies?
• To which extent does top management exercise leadership on sustainability and CSR issues?
• To which extent are employees seen as influential stakeholders for sustainability and CSR?
• To which extent do boards of directors focus on sustainability and CSR?

nor sustainability or CSR into corporate communication.g. they do not use them strategically in practice. and specific crucial value aspects like organizational development and corporate branding are more prevalent in some tools than in other types of tools and barely approached with appropriate concern for their interactive and relational value creation. corporate communication. However. and corporate communication is not integrated into sustainability or CSR. corporate values. strategy . corporate social responsibility. the focus being on presenting a revised CSR communication framework (Nielsen and Thomsen 2007). The purpose of the paper is also to give guidance to practitioners on CSR implementation issues related to how CSR is organized and communicated. The contribution of the paper is to discuss the potential correlation between various communication tools and CSR strategy implementation. e. in relation to a recent research project initiated by a group of researchers in the ASB Centre for Corporate Communication and conducted in collaboration with The Confederation of Danish Industry. • To which extent do corporations use measurements and measures of sustainability and CSR? • To which extent is sustainability and CSR communicated to internal and external stakeholders? • How is sustainability and CSR staged in businesses’ reporting and branding material? Part of the studies show that Danish companies are aware that the tools in question should be used as tools for implementing CSR. the strategic potential of these tools is not fully exploited. Cooperation between corporate communication and sustainability or CSR is for example not formalized. Keywords Sustainability. Thus.

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