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Kickstart Guide - Episode 4: Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR)

In the last episode, I described the concept of Responsible Research & Innovation, which was primarily designed for science. However, what are the concepts for implementing digital ethics principles and responsible innovation in companies? Corporate Digital Responsibility is currently among the most prominent frameworks to operationalize digital ethics.

To understand what is behind CDR we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

(1) How is Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) defined?

(2) What are the principles behind the concept of CDR?

(3) How can CDR be put into practice?

(4) Where can one find further information on the topic?

(5) Which actors in the Responsible Innovators Ecosystem are specialized in CDR?

For some time now, there has been an effort in companies to become socially involved in addition to their profit-oriented business activities. This has given rise to the field of corporate social responsibility. This includes all activities of companies that support social projects beyond their business purpose. Unlike CSR, the sustainability movement goes a step further and aims not only to support companies' ecological projects, but also to align the core of the company and the business models themselves in a more sustainable way. There is currently a debate about whether and how corporate digital responsibility should be categorized in these areas. For some, it is part of sustainability, while others assume that all these disciplines will be united under corporate responsibility in the future. Regardless of the outcome of these discussions, it is important to understand the core of corporate digital responsibility today and already integrate it into one's own corporate practice.

(1) How is Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) defined?

Below I have compiled a selection of definitions applied by relevant initiatives. The German Association of the Digital Economy defines corporate digital responsibility as as a management concept in which companies integrate social and environmental concerns into their business activities and interactions with their stakeholders (especially in the context of digital transformation). CDR encompasses the voluntary contribution of business to ethical and sustainable digital development. This goal goes beyond simply meeting existing legal requirements. An essential component of CDR is the values-based examination of positive and negative as well as direct and indirect effects of the use of digital technologies. In addition, data-driven products and systems as well as digital business processes and models are analyzed, weighed and aligned along corporate values with regard to the interests of different stakeholders. The transfer of social norms and values to the digital world plays an essential role in this process. This value-based debate is based on general questions of digital ethics. It asks what is the right and good way to live and coexist in a world shaped by digital technologies and translates existing ethical standards for a digitally shaped society. (CDR Building Bloxx: Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW) e.V.)

According to the CDR Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, ‘Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) addresses the role of corporate responsibility in an increasingly digital world. Reflecting on the impact of one's own actions on society and the environment is an essential component of a holistically designed digital transformation. CDR initiatives often go beyond existing regulatory requirements and require proactive voluntary compliance measures.’ (Corporate Digital Responsibility Initiative EN - Code (

The International Design Manifesto refers to “Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) as a set of practices and behaviours that help an organisation use data and digital technologies in ways that are perceived as socially, economically, and environmentally responsible.” (Corporate Digital Responsibility - International CDR Manifesto)

(2) What are the principles behind the concept of CDR?

Corporate Digital Responsibility is a concept that is still evolving. The principles behind it vary between the authorities. The following principles are summaries of some common initiatives for consolidation in the German-speaking or European area.

CDR Building Bloxx

  • CDR Building Bloxx: (1) Digital Wellbeing (2) Environment & Resources (3) Communication (4) Responsibility for Data, Privacy & Security (5) Artificial Intelligence (6) Responsible Innovation (7) Future of Work (8) Digital Empowerment & Digital Inclusion

  • Principles of the Code of the CDR Initiative: (1) Core social values (2) Human-centric Technology (3) Generating Benefits (4) Avoiding harm (5) Autonomy (6) Fairness (7) Transparency (8) Responsibility (9) Sustainability

  • CDR Manifesto: (1) Purpose & Trust (2) Fair and equitable access for all (3) Promote societal wellbeing (4) Consider economic and societal impact (5) Accelerate progress with impact economy (6) Creating a sustainable planet to live (7) Reduce tech impact on climate and environment

(3) How can CDR be put into practice?

The different CDR frameworks provide guidance on how to implement the principles. Overall, all of these dimensions and recommendations for action are intended to help put digital ethical principles into practice. Just as in the case of compliance, appropriate governance must be developed in accordance with legal requirements to ensure adherence to the values and principles.

  • General CDR Building Bloxx (

    • Strategy, guidelines, organization, controls, monitoring, communication: Digital responsibility is demonstrably an integral part of the corporate culture, structure and strategy.

    • Change & Transformation: Digital change has people as its focus - the transformation of products, technologies and processes is managed consciously and adaptively.

    • Values & Principles: Responsible digitalization is values-based. It follows the basic principle of treating individuals, society and the environment with respect.

  • Areas of action CDR Code (Corporate Digital Responsibility Initiative EN - Code (

  • Data Handling

  • Education

  • Climate and resource protection

  • Employee involvement

  • Inclusion

In 2022, the CDR Initiative also published the first CDR report in Germany, describing selected companies' compliance with the principles. This example is just the beginning of objective reporting on CDR activities in companies. As regulation increases, so will the auditing and reporting obligations of technologies and their use in companies. Until these obligations are in place, the initiative will reward companies that voluntarily and comprehensively implement CDR principles with the CDR Award. The submission period for this year's award runs until April 28, 2023.

(4) Where can one find further information on the topic?

The following online resources provide a good summary of CDR principles and how they are applied in practice:

The principles have also been the subject of significant scientific research. The following publications, among others, are recommended as an introduction to the subject:

Since this is an introduction to the subject, I am only sharing open access publications here. Many more can be found in relevant libraries and on research sites.

(5) Which actors in the Responsible Innovators Ecosystem are specialized in CDR?

At the moment, it is mainly management consultancies that specialize in CDR. Either coming from traditional consulting or having been established for the topic, they help with the development of a CDR code and its operational implementation in companies.

In the scientific field, CDR is certainly being addressed, but more in the area of fundamental questions about the scope of digital and AI ethics and their implementation.

Consultations in the field are among others:

Experts in the field of corporate digital responsibility are among others:

While CDR principles are a good starting point, they obviously don't cover the entire field of digital ethics and AI ethics. To help you better understand the background of CDR and responsible innovation, I'll give you an introduction to the philosophical foundation of CDR in the next episode.

With my Responsible Innovators Kickstart Guide, I want to give you access to knowledge in the field of digital ethics and responsible innovation. I will also show you how you can put this knowledge into practice. Get insights into an inspiring ecosystem and let's create change for a better future together!

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