January 12, 2023
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

CSR, ESG, DEI = PURPOSE. Right? Wrong!

Our team defines Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as the umbrella that houses Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG initiatives, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, and other transformative strategies. 

This past December, SkillSoft, a leading platform for transformative learning experiences, released its new Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Work Report

Based on insights from more than 1,000 working professionals, the report found that 72% of respondents’ organizations are investing more in CSR now than before the pandemic. Despite this positive trend, just over half of respondents (54%) say their organization has a formal CSR plan for the coming year.

Skillsoft’s report revealed that the top three CSR program priorities are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), improving labor policies, and participating in fair trade. 

But what about ESG? We often hear from clients that ESG feels like a “check the box” type of initiative or that ESG is CSR. However, that is not the case.


CSR and ESG are not the same, nor is DEI. 

SkillSoft’s report states the following:

  • 54% of respondents said they use “CSR” and “ESG” interchangeably.
  • Yet, 53% say their organization focuses on CSR because it covers a broader range of issues than ESG.
  • 46% say ESG efforts replace CSR efforts as companies face increased pressure to provide and measure against program objectives.

We want to stop this trend, as ESG may become something a company must do to comply with regulatory standards. 


While CSR does not equal ESG or DEI, nor does CSR equal PURPOSE

While corporate social justice, sustainability, and inclusion initiatives are extremely prevalent today, it is essential to keep them distinct from your organizational purpose.


Confusion ensues when stakeholders need help distinguishing between your organization’s purpose and stance on environmental issues or inclusion efforts. It’s more effective to clarify these distinctions and, in alignment with corporate purpose and ideals, capitalize on the unique contributions that ESG, CSR, and DEI programs make to the organization’s culture and success.


Further clarification on CSR, ESG, DEI, and Organizational Purpose

The organizational purpose is an organization’s existential question, or its reason for being.


  • Kroger’s purpose is to feed the human spirit.
  • Target’s purpose is to help families discover the joy of everyday life.
  • General Mills’ purpose is to make food the world loves.

Environment, social, and governance (ESG) is the quantifiable measure of a company’s sustainability and societal impact, using metrics that matter to investors. Examples: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate risk pay equity, diversity and inclusion, ethical behavior, and anti-corruption.


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a form of business self-regulation that aims to contribute to philanthropic, activist, or charitable, societal goals by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices. Examples: Volunteering, helping employees advance careers, donating products or services.


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a term used to describe policies and programs that promote the representation and participation of different groups of individuals, including people of different ages, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, genders, religions, cultures, and sexual orientations. Examples: Develop sponsorship programs to provide opportunity and growth to minorities and marginalized groups, establish concrete, actionable, and quantifiable DEI goals to advance the workforce representation of historically underrepresented groups, and devise a means for measuring and reporting performance.


Don’t conflate. Just do.

For decades, corporations have articulated their corporate ideals through mission, vision, and purpose statements, as well as core values or principles. Every organization has a purpose, whether or not they define it or communicate it. This is not the case with ESG, CSR, and DEI strategies. These relatively new programs only exist if developed, staffed, funded, and supported by both leadership and staff.

As the landscape evolves toward more organizations becoming increasingly involved in issues that tug at their purpose and core values and matter to employees, customers, and investors, we will see more evidence of their impact. 

While ESG, CSR, and DEI programs are vital and inextricably linked to corporate standards and direction, there is a difference between these strategies and organizational purpose. Conflating them adds confusion and dilutes their impact on your organization and its stakeholders.

At Strat Labs, we educate our clients on how to position ESG, DEI, and other purpose-driven initiatives to their internal stakeholders so that everyone clearly understands the differences between the programs and the role each plays in moving the company forward. Want to learn more? Contact our team today!

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