Sample Undergraduate 2:1 Business Essay Plan

Modified: 1st September 2023

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Can CSR activities and sustainability offset negative publicity in the age of green consumerism?

1.0 Introduction

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability and green consumerism are heavily critiqued throughout academic literature, with there being various assertions as to what the benefits of these strategies are.
  • This report will critically analyse this concepts to understand whether it can be used to offset negative publicity or brand reputation, and will involve case analysis of brands such as Primark, Nike or Ryanair.

2.0 Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability & Green Consumerism

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be defined as “being concerned with treating the stakeholders of the firm ethically or in a responsible manner…with the wider aim of social responsibility being to create higher and higher standards of living, while preserving the profitability of the corporation, for peoples both within and outside the corporation” (Hopkins, 2012, pp. 15-16).
  • Sustainability is a key aspect of CSR, and will examine how an organisation structures their operational processes and procedures to minimise their environmental impact and CO2 emissions (Ramus, 2001). Furthermore, there are a plethora of theoretical tools and concepts within sustainability literature, such as The Triple Bottom Line (Profit, People, Place) (Norman & MacDonald, 2004).
  • Green consumerism represents the second key term of the essay, and can be asserted as the adaption in consumer lifestyles which greatly support the ‘green’ activities of an organisation, including purchasing Fairtrade, organic or ethically sourced goods (Moisander, 2007). Growing consumer segments that align with green consumerism are creating enormous pressure on many organisations to operate with underlying principles of CSR, or they may disenfranchise a significant amount of key demographics that align with the green consumerism ideology.
  • Additional definitions can be included within this section to provide a more critical overview of the key terms and theories related to these core concepts, including an exploration into more theory (stakeholder theory, the corporate citizen framework or integrative theories).
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2.1 Explore driving forces for pursuing CSR

  • A plethora of literature can support an analysis into the driving forces of CSR and sustainability, which aims to propose what some of the most significant reasons are for pursuing this. Many of these studies revolve around financial benefits, but there are also several that explore the impacts CSR and sustainability can have on brand metrics and consumer behaviour (Zhu, et al., 2014; Tang, et al., 2012).
  • Some of the most significant reasons for pursuing CSR are for increase profit generation, developing a company’s brand reputation, engaging with wider consumer demographics or a genuine interest for contributing to the long-term sustainability of the world (Crowther & Aras, 2008). Organisational case studies can be referenced here, such as Tesla – who seem to adopt genuine motives for developing their technology to benefit the consumer, and the environment (Hardman, 2016). Alternatively, Nike are seen to pursue CSR strategies after they received negative publicity on their use of ‘slave labour’, which presents a different perspective for driving forces of pursuing CSR and sustainable activities.
  • Critically analysing each of these driving forces for CSR and sustainability would help form a foundation for discussion on whether CSR is used as a tool to offset negative publicity, with some preliminary findings from the Nike case study analysis.
  • Increased profit generation is heavily debated within CSR, with the topic of whether or not many strategies are implemented genuinely, or just to benefit the organisation (Russo & Perrini, 2010). This would also form into the analysis on whether or not it is used to offset negative publicity.

3.0 CSR & Sustainability Benefit to Offset Negative Publicity

  • Through utilising the literature from the previous section, and the definitions of what CSR and sustainability are, a discussion and analysis can be held on whether CSR/sustainability strategies are used to offset negative publicity. This will involve the integration of theoretical literature, frameworks (Triple Bottom Line), and real life examples/case studies (Nike/Primark/Ryanair/Tesla).
  • dopting a case study approach for this would be optimum, and should involve companies like Nike (low-paid and child labour) or Ryanair (poor customer service) and how they have developed their CSR activities since bad publicity. Nike have a rigid and strict CSR policy since their critiques for using outsourced, low-paid labour, and this can be seen as a direct response to offset the negative publicity (Newell, 2015). Ryanair are also utilising these concepts to create an entirely new brand image for the company, and move away from historically poor negative publicity (French, 2015).
  • Identify ways in which CSR is seen to be beneficial with offsetting negative publicity, such as tailoring strategies against the source of the publicity. For Nike, this would see them develop CSR initiatives against low priced labour within the supply chain, and the creation of a more sustainable, ethical, and resilient supply chain.
  • Furthermore, explore how organisations who already have an exceptional reputation utilise CSR activities to maintain their strong reputation. This allows firm to minimise the impact on any future negative publicity, and acts as a form of barrier for protecting their organisational reputation. However, this could ultimately be discussed against the principle that CSR strategies are used to generate profits, with any other outcomes being additional benefits (Zhu, et al., 2014).
  • A summary should conclude this section, which will report the key findings of the discussion. From the current analysis within this essay plan, the summary will likely support the notion that CSR is often used as a tool to offset and maintain corporate reputation, which can ground a further analysis for exploring how this is communicated to consumers through detailed CSR reports and marketing (Reynolds & Yuthas, 2008).

3.1 Communication of CSR and Sustainability

  • It is incredibly likely that the analysis supports the notion that CSR is used to offset negative publicity, whilst also being used to improve the financial performance of an organisation as CSR can represent a method for influencing consumer behaviour (Crowther & Aras, 2008).
  • This is further exacerbated through the communication strategies that organisations amalgamate with their CSR strategies, positing the notion that they are only pursued to use as a marketing tool for consumer-brand engagement. Communication methods that are used by many organisations include reports, public relations, and online/offline advertisement (Du, et al., 2010).
  • Therefore, ulterior motives may also underpin the critical analysis of whether CSR can be utilised to offset negative publicity, but it should also be outlined that CSR strategies are still implemented by firms who show a genuine interest in operating more ethically and sustainable (such as Tesla).
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4.0 Conclusion

  • Core concepts, definitions and frameworks of CSR have been explored to ground a critical analysis on whether these strategies can be used to offset negative publicity and brand reputation. The analysis highlights that this is most likely the case, as many organisations pursue CSR and sustainability strategies for their own gains through improved brand reputation or financial performance. Furthermore, this is heavily communicated to consumers, which supports the notion that companies conduct these strategies to promote a positive brand reputation and influence consumer behaviour.


Crowther, D. & Aras, G., 2008. Corporate social responsibility. London: Bookboon.

Du, S., Bhattacharya, C. B. & Sen, S., 2010. Maximizing business returns to corporate social responsibility (CSR): The role of CSR communication. International Journal of Management Reviews , 12(1), pp. 8-19.

French, L., 2015. Ryanair’s reputation recovery takes off. [Online] Available at:

Hardman, D., 2016. Analysis: Five lessons retailers can learn from Tesla. Available at:

Hopkins, M., 2012. Corporate Social Responsibility and International Development: Is Business the Solution?. 1st ed. Bath: Bath Press.

Moisander, J., 2007. Motivational complexity of green consumerism. International journal of consumer studies , 31(4), pp. 404-409.

Newell, A., 2015. How Nike Embraced CSR and Went From Villain to Hero. Available at:

Norman, W. & MacDonald, C., 2004. Getting to the bottom of “triple bottom line". Business Ethics Quarterly, 14(2), pp. 243-262.

Ramus, C., 2001. Organizational support for employees: Encouraging creative ideas for environmental sustainability. California Management Review , 43(3), pp. 85-105.

Reynolds, M. A. & Yuthas, K., 2008. Moral discourse and corporate social responsibility reporting.. Journal of Business Ethics, 78(1), pp. 47-64.

Russo, A. & Perrini, F., 2010. Investigating stakeholder theory and social capital: CSR in large firms and SMEs. Journal of Business ethics , 91(2), pp. 207-221.

Tang, Z., Hull, C. E. & Rothenberg, S., 2012. How corporate social responsibility engagement strategy moderates the CSR–financial performance relationship. Journal of Management Studies , 49(7), pp. 1274-1303.

Zhu, Y., Sun, L.-Y. & Leung, A. S. M., 2014. Corporate social responsibility, firm reputation, and firm performance: The role of ethical leadership. Asia Pacific Journal of Management , 31(4), pp. 925-947.

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