Corporate Resonsibility Trends 2010
by Eric Biel, Burson-Marsteller
The start of a new decade provides an opportunity to identify the most important Corporate Responsibility/Sustainability issues facing business today and over the next few years. And there is no shortage of challenging issues on the plates of executives involved in defining their companies’ policies and programs in areas ranging from climate change to human rights to water stewardship to workplace diversity.
Rather than just listing individual issues, we highlight below key Corporate Responsibility trends likely to cut across sectors and geographies in 2010 and beyond.
• Climate change – Business taking the lead: The failure of the world’s governments to reach a meaningful agreement last month in Copenhagen should not obscure all that many businesses did on the road to that COP15 conference. We can expect many companies – from utilities to retailers to high-tech firms – not to slow down and to continue to chart an aggressive course post-Copenhagen, identifying new and innovative ways to cut emissions and work with NGOs and other stakeholders to mitigate the impact of climate change.
• Human rights – Tracking local impact: The global business and human rights agenda is an active one, with UN Special Representative (and Harvard Kennedy School Professor) John Ruggie taking the lead in developing a smart, balanced framework for addressing a range of challenging policy issues. What is emerging as a key challenge (but also real opportunity) for companies is tracking the impact of their practices and operations on local communities. More leading firms are undertaking “human rights impact assessments” in order to better understand how to deal with their most important “on the ground” issues.
• Reporting and disclosure, Part 1 – Driving transparency across the supply chain: With Wal-Mart playing a leading role, CSR reporting increasingly is moving beyond companies’ own data to also include information on suppliers. While this has long been expected from apparel firms and others sourcing from overseas factories on labor standards issues, now environmental reporting is moving up and down the supply chain. Providers of both products and services more often need to share information on their own environmental performance with existing clients and in competitive bids for new business.
• Reporting and disclosure, Part 2 – Deploying digital and social media tools: The other notable CSR reporting trend is a shift away from focusing on lengthy reports released annually – which quickly can become outdated in key areas – and increased use of company websites, other digital tools, and social media to get the word out on key achievements, new programs and policies, and so forth. As in other areas, companies recognize that they new and creative approaches to share information on everything from philanthropy to updated carbon emissions data.
• “Voluntary” and “mandatory” initiatives – Finding common ground: The long debate about the relevant merits and effectiveness of “voluntary” CSR initiatives vis-à-vis measures imposed by government is giving way to recognition of a substantial middle ground. Governments themselves are encouraging creative private-sector led efforts – as long as these are accompanied by clear criteria for participation, standards for accountability, transparent reporting, and engagement with non-business stakeholders.
• Strategic philanthropy – More local and entrepreneurial: More companies are re-focusing their giving in the communities in which they operate and do business – looking for ways to align their support with activities likely to reveal the impact of that corporate giving. At the same time, there is increasing pressure both within companies and among key stakeholders to be able to measure the impact of philanthropic efforts. Combined with the “venture philanthropy” focus of Millennials – which combines a commitment to “doing good” with a view that more often is accomplished through for-profit initiatives – this means companies will need to be more careful and creative about giving targets, approaches, and partners.