At the Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) 9th Annual Summit, one expert panel session evaluated Canada’s CSR image abroad. Canadians are seen as nice and polite, the panelists said, but Canada is not viewed as a leader in environmental sustainability or corporate social performance on a global scale.

Mark Lee, executive director of San Francisco-based consulting firm SustainAbility, argued that in some ways Canada is well-positioned for CSR leadership with advantages like a wealthy and socially-conscious consumer base who expects corporations to behave ethically and responsibly, as well as international goodwill and a positive image abroad. However, it’s often major consumer brands that publicize CSR issues for the broad consumer audience by linking themselves to the cause. Canada is lacking those big global brands to be our “CSR flag-bearers.”

Andrew Heintzman, president of Investco and a leading expert on the green economy discussed the idea that a country’s international business reputation is built on the innovation that it brings to other markets. In the energy and natural resources sectors, Canada has the potential to revolutionize  environmental sustainability, not only in “green” sectors like solar and wind, but also in industries that are not traditionally seen as eco-friendly like forestry, mining, and oil sands. The challenge, according to Heintzman, is that many Canadian companies with great ideas are having trouble getting start-up capital, so the world is not seeing the full capabilities of Canadian innovation.

Louis Guay, CSR Coordinator (Americas) at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade talked about the importance of educating key stakeholder groups to ensure the success of CSR efforts. In global CSR, these groups are investors, concerned governments, and affected communities. A successful CSR program will be one that impacts each of these groups in a positive way and is communicated to each group effectively.