Featured Topic: Corporate Social Responsibility


As children, we’re taught about the importance of thinking of others, not just ourselves. But on a bigger scale, who teaches teams, companies, or even industries to think beyond their own interests and consider the wider good of communities and society as a whole? This is the definition of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which entails “the context-specific organizational actions and policies that take into account stakeholders’ expectations and the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental performance” (Aguinis, 2011, p. 855, cited in Tong, Zhu, Zhang, Livuza, & Zhou, 2019).

Following some major ethical scandals in the early 21st century involving large corporations like Enron, Parlamat, and Baidu, companies are increasingly being held to high standards for ethical behavior. Engaging in CSR-related activities is one way to show a commitment to meeting these standards. Xue, Yu, and Xu (2019) reported positive outcomes in this regard, finding that many of their participants, who comprised managers and owners of family-owned small- and-medium-sized enterprises in China, reported great increases in their CSR cognition level over the previous 5 years. These managers and owners also prioritized strategic (e.g., improving the enterprise’s reputation and strengthening sustainability) over political (e.g., establishing and maintaining a good relationship with the government) motives for engaging in CSR.

When it comes to customer perspectives on firms engaging in CSR, Han, Lho, and Lee (2019) observed that consumers are increasingly aware of the possible environmental and social impacts introduced by industries. These authors found that customers show greater loyalty when airlines take actions such as seeking to mitigate the negative environmental impacts that accompany aircraft use, including high consumption of energy and natural resources, air pollution, and ozone layer depletion. Taking a social impact perspective, Hwang, Cho, and Kim (2019) found that making a point of employing older adults—as a population that is increasing in size and experiencing a greater frequency of social problems, such as poverty—strengthens customers’ perceptions of these firms’ philanthropic CSR and results in a favorable attitude toward the brand. Contrasting with these positive outcomes, Li (2018) found that customers have lower purchasing intention for corporations that are seen as avoiding their social responsibilities.

In addition to external patrons, like customers, a firm’s CSR activities influence internal stakeholders, including employees. Xue et al. (2019) stated that, across all the industries included in their sample, the owners and managers they surveyed consistently considered employees to be a core component of CSR. Further, Tong et al. (2019) commented that CSR activities give employees a sense of meaning in their work and help to promote the development of a caring and supportive work climate. These factors, in turn, encourage positive employee behaviors, such as creativity, which is advantageous for the third strand of the triple bottom line goal: economic performance. 

There are many avenues of CSR open to companies looking to promote social and environmental good in ways that also help to advance their competitive advantage and sustainability. Keen to find out more about what recommendations our authors have in this regard? Sign up for a personal subscription to SBP, which will give you access to the more than 6,000 papers we’ve published in the fields of social, behavioral, and developmental psychology.

Employees’ perceptions of corporate social responsibility and creativity: Employee engagement as a mediator – Zelin Tong, Liya Zhu, Ning Zhang, Lisher Livuza, and Nan Zhou, 2019, 47>(12), e8479.

Corporate social responsibility and Chinese family-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises – Ke Xue, Mingyang Yu, and Sheng Xu, 2019, 47(3), e7597.

Perceived corporate social responsibility affects airline passengers’ service evaluation and loyalty – Heesup Han, Heejung Linda Lho, and Hyerin Lee, 2019, 47(11), e8477.

Philanthropic corporate social responsibility, consumer attitudes, brand preference, and customer citizenship behavior: Older adult employment as a moderator – Jinsoo Hwang, Sun-bai Cho, and Woohyoung Kim, 2019, 47(7), e8111.

Effect of marketing information on purchase intention for proenvironmental products in China – Yang Li, 2018, 46(7), 1215–1232.