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Learn About Quality

What Is Social Responsibility?

Quality Glossary Definition: Social responsibility

Social responsibility is a means of achieving sustainability. Adopting key social responsibility principles, such as accountability and transparency, can help ensure the long-term viability and success of any organization or system.

In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published an international standard, ISO 26000, to help organizations assess and address their social responsibilities. ISO 26000-2010: Guidance on Social Responsibility defines social responsibility as:

The responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behavior that:

  • Contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society
  • Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders
  • Is in compliance with applicable laws and consistent with international norms of behavior
  • Is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships

Organizations can achieve sustainability by paying careful attention to their impact on society and the environment. Behaving in a transparent, ethical manner ensures an approach that helps protect the long-term success of society and the environment.

Another tenet of social responsibility is the triple bottom line, also known as "people, planet, and profit." This is the belief that achieving profit does not require harm to the planet or the exploitation of people. Organizations can profit while also taking care of the planet and people.

The Business Case for Social Responsibility and Quality

The quality triple bottom line

Core Subjects and Key Principles of Social Responsibility

ISO 26000-2010: Guidance on Social Responsibility identifies seven core social responsibility subjects:

  1. Organizational governance
  2. Human rights
  3. Labor practices
  4. Environment
  5. Fair operating practices
  6. Consumer issues
  7. Community involvement and development

In addition to the core subjects, ISO 26000 also defines seven key principles of socially responsible behavior:

  1. Accountability
  2. Transparency
  3. Ethical behavior
  4. Respect for stakeholder interests 
  5. Respect for the rule of law
  6. Respect for international norms of behavior
  7. Respect for human rights

Social Responsibility in Business

Social responsibility in business, also known as corporate social responsibility (CSR), pertains to people and organizations behaving and conducting business ethically and with sensitivity towards social, cultural, economic, and environmental issues. Striving for social responsibility helps individuals, organizations, and governments have a positive impact on development, business, and society. 

Smart business decisions are not just a matter of counting short-term dollars and cents. Wise decision makers consider the future impact of today’s choices on people, on the community, and on customers and their opinions.

While business results, investment, free enterprise, and other traditional economic forces continue to drive industry, organizations’ reputations and their ability to compete effectively around the world depend on them integrating social responsibility efforts into decision making and performance improvement.

History of Social Responsibility and Quality

It is important for quality professionals to understand the history of social responsibility as there are many similarities to the quality movement. In the early days of quality there were debates about quality costs and everyone’s responsibility to quality as opposed to end-of-the-line inspection. The social responsibility movement started with debates about a corporation having any responsibility to society. 

In a now infamous New York Times article by Milton Friedman published in 1970, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist wrote that social responsibility is a "fundamentally subversive doctrine in a free society." He believed that the only responsibility that a corporation has is to the shareholder. In 1999, John Elkington introduced the concept of the "triple bottom line," making the case that concern for society and the environment can coexist with an ambition for profits.

W. Edwards Deming also contributed to the progress of social responsibility. At least two of his famous 14 Points on Quality Management speak directly to social responsibility theory:

  1. End the practice of awarding business on price alone
  2. Drive out fear

Since these early debates and transformative moments, social responsibility has gained traction and credibility; it is now recognized that people, planet, and profit are mutually inclusive. Just as quality leads to profit, responsibility leads to sustainable profit. Trends have moved from corporate social responsibility programs, to sustainable development, to sustainability, to social responsibility.

Sustainability is an ideal state, as is quality an ideal state. The aims and ideals of social responsibility, as a path to sustainability, make social responsibility a natural and progressive extension of the quality practitioner’s professional competency.


You can also search articles, case studies, and publications for social responsibility resources.

Books and Standards

ASQ/ANSI/ISO 26000-2010: Guidance On Social Responsibility

ISO 26000 In Practice

Sustainable Business And Industry

Bringing Business Ethics To Life: Achieving Corporate Social Responsibility


Understanding and Achieving Social Responsibility (Journal for Quality and Participation) Many quality professionals believe that quality and social responsibility are tied together, and deepen the field by taking processes into account, as well as process output.

A Proven Framework For Social Responsibility (Journal for Quality and Participation) Setting up a successful social responsibility framework requires incorporating the core elements of ISO 26000—organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. This article presents case studies showing ISO 26000 in use.

Integrating Social Responsibility With Business Strategy: A Guide For Quality Professionals (PDF) This guide defines integrated social responsibility and explains why it is important, provides talking points and case studies, and maps out a process for using quality to integrate social responsibility into organizational strategy and daily operations.

Social Responsibility and Performance Excellence (Journal for Quality and Participation) This article explores how successful organizations are using the Criteria for Performance Excellence associated with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to drive their ability to achieve excellent performance results while serving as role models for societal responsibility.

Case Studies

Stewardship And Sustainability: Serigraph's Journey To ISO 14001 (Journal for Quality and Participation) Leaders of Serigraph understand that sustainability and social responsibility require the simultaneous promotion of equitable economic growth, environmental protection, and social well-being. Serigraph uses ISO 14001, Six Sigma, and lean as its templates for environmental and sustainability improvement.


ISO 26000 In Practice Authors Michelle Bernhart and Sonny Maher provide an overview of social responsibility and introduce the new ISO 26000 standard and their book, ISO 26000 In Practicewhich acts as a point-to-point guide to integrating social responsibility in your organization.

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