I have always harbored a strong personal interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and so I am delighted to be heading up the Council’s latest efforts in this terrain. Like all our projects, we start with the questions: “Who cares? Why does it matter? And what is the value to the business?” As I was researching these questions, I was particularly interested to see if CSR had fallen among priorities in the corporate agenda (along with expense budgets and Christmas parties). It turns out that CSR has actually grown MORE important during the recession, both to CEOs and to the key talent they are all fighting to attract and retain. Below I’ve included some of the evidence I’ve found so far:
- CEOs vote CSR as critical to future success: A recent survey by UN Global Compact and Accenture reports that 80% of CEOs (out of a sample of 766 globally) say that the downturn has raised the importance of sustainability. Re-establishing consumer trust is the immediate issue. Seventy-two percent of executives cite “strengthening brand, trust and reputation” as the strongest motivator for taking action on sustainability issues. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of corporate CEOs (93%) believe that sustainability has become critical to the future success of their companies, seeing it as a source of cost efficiencies and revenue growth.
- Business school graduates would trade cash for a sustainable company: It’s not just senior leaders who are prioritizing CSR. There is a rising social consciousness among business students too. A recent study by Stanford Graduate School for Business shows that (1) future leaders rate CSR high on the list of factors that would drive their decision to take a role (75% as high as intellectual challenge and 95 percent as important as the financial package) and (2) they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. They measured the trade-offs that MBAs would make across different dimensions and found that they would give up a whopping 14.4% of their salary for a company that they felt exhibited the following four categories of corporate responsibility: caring about employees, caring for stakeholders (such as community residents), environmental sustainability, and ethical business conduct.
- CSR is linked to employee commitment: If you are looking for more commitment from existing employees, it seems that CSR plays a role there too. The Center for Creative Leadership conducted a global leadership study and found clear linkages between CSR programs and the level of employee commitment to the company. Sarah Stawiski, co-author of the report , talks about the positive benefits of committed employees as ambassadors, but admits that CSR isn’t a panacea to retention issues.
CSR is clearly still on the agenda – if not more than ever. Over the coming months, we will be looking into this subject further to identify both the core challenges for communicators in driving stakeholder engagement around CSR initiatives, and hopefully in demonstrating the business value of them. If you are interested in taking part in the research – either contributing ideas or just finding out what others are doing – please get in touch. One thing is certain: technology, collaboration, and a deeper understanding of consumer and employee expectations are going to be critical CSR success factors in the coming years.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for communicators in driving stakeholder engagement with your CSR efforts? Have you seen smart approaches that are achieving disproportionate impact?