What is the difference (if any) between social sustainability and corporate social responsibility?

Sep 24, 2019

One of the most difficult challenges for a company that wants to become sustainable is when trying to figure out where to start. Among the first things to grasp are the concepts of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, these are often synonymous with each other.

It is fair to say that there is no social sustainability without corporate social responsibility. However, this does not mean that the two terms are interchangeable.

Social sustainability 

Social sustainability, together with economic and environmental sustainability are interrelated and make up the concept that is sustainability. The main objective of social sustainability is the pursuit of equity, which involves moving towards the elimination of poverty and the creation of dignified conditions within the lives of individuals.

A socially sustainable company should be specifically committed to taking useful action to affirm the rights (economic, social, political, cultural, etc.) of people within its sphere of operations. A context where social sustainability applies is an environment that expresses the potential of each individual, where everyone has the ability to act in decision-making processes. In other words, social sustainability means having the ability to ensure fair humane conditions, creating the conditions that contribute to the well-being of any class and gender.

Corporate social responsibility 

Corporate social responsibility, also often known as Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR, is an aspect of social sustainability and therefore, of sustainability. The implementation of CSR is a company’s commitment to social, economic and environmental sustainability. In practice, by taking care of being socially responsible, a company promises to be sustainable.

By definition, corporate social responsibility is the integration of ethical concerns into a strategic corporate vision: it is the manifestation of a company’s ability to effectively manage issues that socially and ethically impact themselves and the surrounding environment.


Corporate social responsibility entered the European Union Council agenda in March 2000, where it was recognised as one of the strategic tools in achieving a more competitive and cohesive society, and a means to implement and disseminate a European social model.

In 2018, CSR was officially introduced to Italy, large companies became obligated to present (together with their annual financial statements) a report on corporate social responsibility. The submission of this report is not yet mandatory for all companies and at the moment only companies with an average number of at 500 employees and one of the following two attributes have to draw one up: a consolidated balance sheet with assets of more than 20 million euros, or net revenues of more than 40 million euros.


Respect for corporate responsibility and therefore, sustainability, helps to propel companies toward economic advantage. Companies that adopt these two approaches evaluate and respond to the economic, environmental and social expectations of all stakeholders, and in doing so, improve their production, the relationship with employees and consumers. In fact, a product is not only appreciated for its qualitative and aesthetic characteristics, but also for its immaterial characteristics: the conditions of supply, the assistance and customization services, the image of the producer and finally the history of the product itself.

The benefits of social responsibility have been reaped by many companies in Italy, just take a look at the data: if in 2001 the number of companies that payed attention to their CSR was only 44%, in 2017 the percentage had doubled to 85%.

 In conclusion… 

With social sustainability and corporate social responsibility, it makes no sense to talk about differences, because the two concepts are interrelated: without social responsibility there could be no sustainability, and vice versa. It is clear that a company must have a clear understanding of how to implement more sustainable methods and attitudes before going into the field of social responsibility.


Sustainability will be explained in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental – at wine2wine 2019. To find out which big names within global wine business will be presenting on the topic, take a look at the sessions in our programme!