Study: Geographic diversity impacts corporate social responsibility

University Park, Pa. -- The geographic location of a corporation's headquarters affects its approach to social responsibility, according to research supported by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State.

Seventy-five percent of Japanese firms, for example, give to arts, sports or music programs, while only one-third of U.S. companies support those initiatives. European firms tend to focus on air pollution prevention and reduction, but giving to education is largely off their radar screens -- fewer than 7 percent do that. By contrast, 62 percent of Japanese companies and 61 percent of U.S. firms support education programs.

Those are some of the findings of a survey of 100 U.S. and international firms determined to be the world's best corporate citizens, through research funded by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State. The research about corporate social responsibility (CSR) was done by Mary Ann Ferguson, a Page legacy scholar and professor of public relations at the University of Florida.

Born out of the study is the Web site http://www.CSR-pedia.com/, with a searchable database about companies' corporate social responsibility initiatives. The site catalogs more than 600 corporate social responsibility programs for the 468 global companies listed.

"The database was created as a tool for those researching corporate social responsibility," Ferguson said. "We wanted a platform to showcase the best practices for these worldwide corporations."

In addition to direct links to the cataloged CSR programs, the CSR-pedia also provides a descriptive list of CSR awards and is in the process of adding research bibliographies.

To determine the 100 best corporate citizens, Ferguson compiled data from five independent ranking systems: Dow Jones Sustainability World Index; FTSE4Good Global; Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World; Ethibel Sustainability Index; and the Business Ethics 100 Best Corporate Citizens list. More than 600 companies were highlighted in these five lists. The 76 companies that appeared on three or more of the lists were marked as exemplary and included in the top 100. The remaining two dozen companies were determined through quota sampling.

Some social responsibility efforts were found to be common everywhere -- monetary donations to social programs, disaster relief programs, energy conservation initiatives and employee volunteer programs. Others were more geographically specific.

More than half of the firms headquartered in the United States and Western Europe had economic social responsibility programs. That contrasts with about one in five in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. More than 60 percent of Japanese companies had programs to help conserve natural resources, while only 13 percent in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada enacted those programs.

While participation in economic social responsibility or natural resource conservation programs is low among companies in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, they overwhelmingly support their local communities. More than 95 percent funded various community programs. The least supportive of community programs were corporations from Japan -- only 50 percent dedicated resources to such programs.

The study also examined the size of communications departments to see if there was a correlation to better CSR efforts; the answer is no.

The research shows the practice of corporate social responsibility has a global reach. Twenty-seven percent of corporations in the top 100 are headquartered in the United States, 17 percent in United Kingdom and Australia, 8 percent in France and 8 percent in Japan. Seven percent are in Denmark-Finland-Norway, 6 percent in Canada, 6 percent in Germany, 5 percent in Switzerland, 4 percent each in Italy, Netherlands and Sweden and 4 percent in Belgium-Spain.

Fifteen percent had businesses in the personal and household goods industry, 14 percent were in telecommunications or utilities, 12 percent were banks and 10 percent each were in industrial goods and industrial services. Ten percent were in technology, 9 percent in health care/pharmaceuticals, 9 percent in financial services/insurance, 8 percent in basic resources and construction, 4 percent in oil/gas/chemicals and 9 percent were categorized as "other."

The Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication is a research center founded in 2004 in the College of Communications at Penn State to study and advance ethics and responsibility in corporate communication and other forms of public communication. The center annually awards up to $75,000 in small grants to support those making important contributions to the field.

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Last Updated February 18, 2010