Football as metaphor of CSR and Sustainability

Metaphors are a good resource to explain complex concepts. And I’m afraid that CSR is one of them. Why? Because, by filling it with so many contents (ethics, diversity, family reconciliation,...




Metaphors are a good resource to explain complex concepts. And I’m afraid that CSR is one of them. Why? Because, by filling it with so many contents (ethics, diversity, family reconciliation, environmental management, climate change, voluntary, integration of people at risk of exclusion, social sponsorship, social entrepreneurship and multi-stakeholder dialogue, transparency, ISR, corporate reputation, rights human …), the result was not the expected: or people doesn’t understand it; or people misunderstand it, assimilating CSR to social action and philanthropy.


So, some time ago I found useful to use football as a metaphor to explain in simple CSR. The starting point was simple: “In football, the key is to ensure a good balance between defense and attack. It is useless to score goals if you end the opponent gets you more”.


How to apply this metaphor in CSR? Easily: “In CSR, the key is to keep a right balance between risk management (that is called “get the house in order”) with the investment in social programs”. Ii would be stupid, for example, to develop support programs for children, if you can’t avoid child labor in the supply chain.



And with that idea in mind, I started to use football as a metaphor to explain the RSC. Here are some ideas:












  1. The goalkeeper of all CSR program is the code of ethics and sustainability reporting. Both ensure the integrity and the accountability.
  2. Defense. The centre backs are usually the “heads of the defense”; so, in this metaphor of football, Human Rights and Supply Chain appear in the center of defense. On the sides, wind backs (good teams usually have wings back who both defense and attack) include projects such as Health and Safety and Environmental Management System.
  3. The forward of a CSR program usually are social programs and products and services with positive impact on society. A mixture of business and philanthropy. This line, the forward, is the one who makes the goals, the one who filled the newspapers and covers, and the one in which clubs invest more money.
  4. The midfield line. I left this line to the end because, in my opinion, is the most important in football: this line assures the balance, create the football for his team, and destroy the game of rivals.


In my system, I opted for the scheme of “diamond”, with an offensive midfield (social innovation) and two players on the wings (Climate Change Strategy and Talent management and diversity) that connect the defense and attack.


But special mention is required for the defensive midfielder, the role reserved for Chieff Sustainability Officer (CSO), whose responsibility is twofold: (1) to play a little ahead of the defense, to support them (promote projects related to risk management); and (2) to connect the game with the attack (especially with the business units whose products and services have a high social impact and could be covered under the umbrella of ​​social innovation).  If I could give an example, in this metaphor, I would be talking about players like Busquets (FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), or historical players like Fernando Redondo (Real Madrid, Milan) and Beckembauer Frantz (Bayer Munich).


I think this metaphor and this strategy reveals the whole potential of CSR and Sustainability. Here are some clues:












  1. It enhances the balance between risk management (put us prevent goals) and management opportunities in the social, economic and environmental (try to score goals).
  2. It creates “corridors” for specific management issues. On one hand, the green corridor: environmental management systems (pure defense), links with the climate change strategy (balance) and with the sustainable products & services launched to the market (attack). On the other hand, the people corridor: health and safety issues (defense), links with diversity management (balance) and with projects for inclusion of social groups at risk of exclusion (attack).
  3. It enhances the figure of the CSO, a sort of half libero or defensive midfield (position to invent the great Frantz Beckembauer) as a figure with transversal responsibilities and with the ability to push resources and budgets of other units on behalf of sustainability.
  4. Beyond the field. (1) The coach is the CEO, he has to move all the pieces. (2) The followers are your stakeholders, especially your customers. And (3) the Championships in which you are playing are: DJSI World Leaders Index, Corporate Knights 100 Most Sustainable Corporations; Newsweek Ranking Global Green 100; CRO Best Corporate Citizens, Ethisphere Most Ethical Companies; FTSE4Goods; Interbrand Best Global Brands.


With this article, I want to thank David Connor, who through his Twitter account (@davidcoethica) was published a post titled The Champions League team of the CSR, which, very friendly, “name” Lucy Marcus (@lucymarcus) and myself as coachs of a team of European stars of the RSC. And I also want to thank Tom Smith (@SedexTom): his questions about the relationship between CSR and football, push me to writte this post.

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