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Fields & Applications Environmental

CSR in Context

While I was studying for my master’s degree, I became fixated on the intricacies of corporate social responsibility. In an attempt to merge my Master’s degree study with my employment domain, I often searched for the terms “corporate social responsibility in laboratories” and regardless of whether I was searching in scholarly databases or Google, I always came up empty handed. The lack of awareness of this important concept bothered me to my core.

I have seen countless labs during my career and observed their CSR practices. But I found it troublesome that the term was not more frequently discussed; the fact that it was not a topic of conversation suggested to me that many labs were not, in fact, following good CSR practices.

CSR is an ethics policy that is most often associated with large corporations and perhaps less within research and academic analytical laboratories. For the former, it encompasses core business practices focused on sustainability for the larger community and environment as well as transparency between the company and its stakeholders. It also plays its part in calculating the total cost of a product from its origin as raw materials to disposal (the product life cycle). Lastly, the triple bottom line concept comes into play – or balancing profit, people, and the planet.

The key to making CSR policies work is finding the sustainable sweet spot. Savitz and Weber suggest that, “Sustainable companies find areas of mutual interest and ways to make doing good and ‘doing well’ synonymous, thus avoiding the implied conflict between society and stakeholders” (1). And they define the sustainability sweet spot as “the place where the pursuit of profit blends seamlessly with the pursuit of the common good”.

Can this concept work for you in your laboratory? Some people will argue that CSR is only valid if you want nothing in return for it. But I disagree; it can be a strong part of the culture even when each business decision made in your laboratory must be justified numerically. Ethics must be woven into the framework of what you do; it needs to become a demanded practice (2).

One effective way is to have a written code of ethics, sometimes referred to as an ethics statement, which is further supported by a sustainability report. If you’re a small business that’s actively working on sustainable initiatives, there is value in publishing this publicly – a little good press can go a long way in attracting new customers.

CSR can be a strong part of the culture even when each business decision made in your laboratory must be justified numerically.

Now that we’ve got a clearer picture of CSR, let’s consider the factors that are unique to laboratories. With the growing use of laboratory automation software and instrument integration “fudging” results is becoming less of a concern, but it is still worth considering when implementing a CSR policy. Moreover, hazardous or potentially hazardous materials must be disposed of properly to mitigate health risks and reduce environmental impact. Then there is the affect the laboratory has on the external environment, so testing outputs is a good way to monitor and reduce impact.

Finally, I think things are beginning to change – slowly. I am pleased to say that when I do the same “corporate social responsibility in laboratories” search today, I find that several companies appear in my query results. Although the number of organizations that have CSR policies is growing, it has not yet come to the forefront of consciousness. Even a small step towards greater CSR could begin to reinvent ethical standards for laboratory practices worldwide.

Read what CSR means to several companies here.

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  1. A. Savitz and K. Weber K, “The Sustainability Sweet Spot: Where Profit Meets the Common Goal”, Business Leadership (2008).
  2. G. Becker, “Moral Leadership in Business”, J. Int. Ethics 2.1 (2009).
About the Author
Elyssa Litchfield

Elyssa Litchfield studied mathematics at the University of Rhode Island. She started working at VelQuest (a laboratory execution system vendor) when she was 19 and finishing her first year of college and remained there throughout her remaining years of study, working in different departments, including software quality assurance, technical training, infrastructure deployment, and technical writing. “Two years ago, I began working at CSols which suits me well, pairing my background in laboratory informatics and my desire to be more customer-facing.” Elyssa completed her Master of Science in Organizational Leadership in 2014, and is very often seen in the company of her dog, Truman.

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