Measuring a company's social performance is called social accounting. While corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about what the company does and social accounting goes a step further and measures how much it does.
People don't necessarily agree on exactly what social accounting is, but the basic element is that it's about how firms contribute to the societies in which they operate, says Andrew Crane, director of Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business, Schulich School of Business, York University.
Social responsibility is assessed on multiple levels, one of which is by social reporting. If firms are producing social impact reports, it's an opportunity to tell the world about what they're doing and what their performance is in this area.
Reports are prepared on specific issues such as carbon footprint, and a variety of CSR indicators are used to rank firms according to their performance, some of them being difficult to assess because of their qualitative nature. We have to think about the net impact on the community within which it operates and across the whole span of its operations, not just in relation to local community initiatives it has or the amount of money it gives to charity, says Crane.
Most MBA and undergraduate degrees have courses in CSR, he says. Also, other types of degrees which may have a CSR element include development studies, international relations or even geography. Courses in ethics and responsibility in business are taught as part of many undergraduate business degrees, including York University. Similarly, the MBA program has some mandatory CSR courses with specialization in business and sustainability.
In order to become a CSR manager, there are different pathways to take, but some sort of experience in the industry is crucial. He adds that entry-level positions require report making and research skills but as experience within the company piles up, chances of becoming a CSR specialist increase.
Anshula Chowdhury, CEO at Social Asset Measurements Inc., says a focus on quantitative and qualitative research methods is needed, but a more natural fit would be accounting or economics.
Social accounting is a growing field, she says. Exact numbers on jobs available are not known, however there is a clear shortage of impact analysts.
Among crucial non-academic skills for becoming a successful CSR specialist is the ability to communicate and negotiate across different audiences. Within a company, you're often talking to people in marketing, finance, and operations, hence knowing how to convey your idea across all platforms is important.
For those considering this field as a possible career choice, this is an incredibly exciting time, says Chowdhury. It is dominated by professionals who are committed to finding better ways of demonstrating social and environmental value. Joining this field today opens up many career opportunities for entrepreneurial individuals who are willing to work with an array of stakeholders in order to create a better world.