SABAF: CR as best practice

Vlerick’s Nigel Roome and Céline Louche have published a teaching case* about this remarkable transformation based on research Prof Roome conducted in 2004. The case describes the learning and change process within Sabaf that laid the foundation for the company’s success today.

While many companies have good corporate social responsibility programmes, Sabaf is different in that it went through a radical change process that led to the integration of environmental and social performance with financial success.

“Sabaf developed an approach to business based on a humanistic philosophy that regards valuing people and the environment as integral to business success.”
Nigel Roome, Professor of Governance, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development, Vlerick Business School

This case study shows that – beyond moving from an implicit to a more explicit approach to CR – Sabaf was also engaged in developing a more ‘humanistic’ approach to management that permeated the entire organisation. What became explicit at Sabaf was not CR but rather the use of the term ‘corporate responsibility’ to include much older concepts of business that value people and the natural environment alongside economics.

This case study is also extremely timely: in late October 2011, the European Commission published a communication entitled “A renewed EU strategy 2011-14 for Corporate Social Responsibility” in which the Commission recognises that CR involves innovation and change.

Embedding CR in the Corporate Culture

This case highlights the multiple kinds of innovation, learning and change processes Sabaf went through to integrate CR at the strategic level and to be rewarded for it through operational performance. It also highlights the key factors that contributed to successfully embedding CR in the company’s strategy, structures, practices and culture.

“One of the key success factors was the ability of Sabaf’s managers to recognise events as moments of opportunity,” Nigel Roome explains. “They saw organisational, social and environmental issues they were encountering as arising because of their way of doing business. They then exercised great skill in turning these events into innovative business opportunities.”

“Sabaf demonstrates the operational rewards that can be realised by integrating CR at an organisation’s strategic level.”                                                                                                                    Céline Louche, Assistant Professor of Corporate Reponsibility, Vlerick Business School

CR maturity = business success

Sabaf is now widely recognised as a business whose high level of CR maturity is inseparable from its success. The case study provides unique insights into the approach Sabaf adopted in its pioneering transformation to reconcile competitiveness and profitability with performance in corporate responsibility.

This case also illustrates that the concept of ‘corporate responsibility’ can be understood in many ways: ranging from corporate philanthropic initiatives handled by a small department in the company, all the way to innovating the company’s business model, developing new habits of thinking and creating organisational change.

The case can be used as a benchmark for other companies that might embark on the process of integrating corporate responsibility and business performance – a strategic process whose effects cut across the business as a whole.

* Related academic article

“SABAF: moving to a learning environment” by Nigel Roome and Céline Louche, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 30, Issue 10, 2011.

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