Purpose – The purpose of this case study is to explore the depth of integration of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), defined as the triple bottom line (3BL), throughout the Wilh. Wilhelmsen (WW) Shipping Company. The endeavor is to understand how the company defines CSR, the developmental experiences of the leaders toward CSR and to identify strategies, policies and practices implemented to support CSR.
Design/methodology/approach – As a part of a larger CSR research project on European-based companies practicing CSR, Wilh. Wilhelmsen was the first organization selected to be studied in understanding the levels of integration of CSR throughout the company. The methodology used for collecting the data consisted of one-on-one interviews with senior executives and focus group sessions conducted with a cross-section of staff employees and middle level managers at Wilh. Wilhelmsen headquarters in Lysaker, Norway.
Findings – Interviews and focus group sessions indicated that CSR and sustainability are not typically understood as the execution of a 3BL strategy among the majority of WW employees. However, when the 3BL concept was explained as the focus of the research, all seemed to be clear as to how it fits in the WW goals and objectives, and the responses from senior executive interviews and employee focus groups were very similar. In terms of how social responsibility got started at WW, most agreed that the practice is a tradition initiated by the Wilhelmsen family generations back and sustained by the current majority owner Mr Wilhelm Wilhelmsen. While all agreed that CSR leadership had been strong at WW, employees and mid-level managers saw some problems in the consistent enactment of company values across the organization and some made suggestions for improvements. However, the employee/middle manager groups positioned WW, as a whole, closer to having a fully-integrated sustainability practice than did the individual senior executives interviewed.
Research limitations/implications – Interviews and focus groups were the methods used to collect data; however, data collection was mostly limited to senior executives and managers. Frontline workers (e.g. ship employees) were not present for either focus group. These frontline workers, particularly those who work on the ships internationally and interact with various cultures as they transport goods from country to country, may have offered a somewhat different perspective regarding implementation of CSR practices world-wide.
Practical implications – Organizational leaders benefit from learning more about what practices, systems, and organizational culture components are important in initiating and sustaining CSR in business operations world-wide.
Originality/value – As a case study, the paper provides an up-close picture of the challenges one company has faced in implementing CSR and the factors underlying its success thus far.