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CSR Trends to Watch in 2013

January 14, 2013


'Tis the season for the annual compilation of "best of" lists and predictions for the coming year – so it's time for my annual prediction of trends to watch in corporate social responsibility in 2013.

To recap from last year, I noted the following five trends that would be important in 2012 in my CSR Now! blog posting on January 30, 2012:

  • Responsibility as a company value (more companies using "responsibility," "sustainability," "respect" and "citizenship" in their mission statements).
  • Growing integration between corporate philanthropy, volunteerism and sustainability (more companies integrating these functions into one office or program).
  • Growing recognition that CSR can build skills in the workplace (more companies focused on volunteerism and community service as ways of building leadership and operational skills).
  • More and better communications about CSR (more CSR reports and the use of social media to engage various stakeholders).
  • Increasing call for more accountability, measurement and transparency (more and better communications about the impact of corporate practices and programs).

These trends, which have been evolving over the past several years, are now so prevalent in the workplace and the media that they barely warrant attention or repetition – although there is, of course, always progress to be made.

My five CSR trends for 2013 build on these practices, and take them to the next level:

  • Growing importance of skills-based (or pro bono) volunteering as an additional way of fostering employee engagement in communities and social issues. While traditional employee volunteering (e.g., cleaning up parks and beaches, staffing soup kitchens and food banks, mentoring kids and building houses) will certainly continue and probably grow, there is a growing recognition that many employees have business skills (e.g., technology, marketing, finance, customer relations) that could benefit nonprofit organizations around the world, and an equally valid recognition that encouraging employees to use these skills to help their communities builds employee engagement and loyalty to their companies. Led by organizations like the Taproot Foundation and Points of Light, and firms such as Deloitte, IBM and PWC, an increasing number of companies are creating or expanding their skills-based volunteer efforts.
  • Growing recognition of employees as key stakeholders in sustainability efforts of companies. As noted in a study released last year by GreenBiz Group and Ernst & Young (see my blog posting of March 28, 2012), employees are emerging as a key stakeholder group for sustainability programs and reporting. When asked to rank the top three stakeholder groups driving their company's sustainability efforts, corporate executives ranked customers first (37%), employees second (22%) and shareholders third (15%). Increasingly employees are seen as the main "customer" of a company's environmental and sustainability programs because their behavior and level of commitment to environmental goals are critical to a company's ability to innovate through new, eco-friendly products and services as well as the ability of a company to reduce its carbon footprint.
  • Growing involvement of corporate boards of directors in corporate social responsibility activities and programs. In her predictions of CSR trends to watch in 2012, Susan McPherson noted a 2011 study by the National Association of Corporate Directors Public Governance Survey that asked about the highest priorities for boards of directors. The highest priority was strategic planning and oversight (72%), and the lowest ranked priority was CSR (2%), but this only means that CSR has nowhere to go but up. I suspect that CSR will never be ranked (nor should it be) as the highest priority for a majority of a public company's board of directors, but the growing importance of CSR to a company's reputation and bottom line, makes it a business imperative and natural component of a board's "strategic planning and oversight" function.
  • Growing acceptance of "shared value creation" as part of a company's social responsibility portfolio. Although I've written and spoken about my belief that achieving real shared value creation is impractical for many companies and exceedingly difficult for others – and my fear that an unintended consequence of focusing on the goal of generating measureable profits with socially responsibly behavior may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater – curtailing a company's philanthropy and social responsibility because of its inability to achieve profitable results (see my post of September 4, 2012), the trend is definitely towards more integration of this thinking in CSR offices and executive suites, so I suspect that this trend will continue to gather steam in the coming months and years.
  • More looking forward, less looking back. While the past five years have been challenging ones for many countries and companies alike, I sense a growing interest in looking forward rather than backward now. As the economy continues to improve in many parts of the world, many eyes will be on what ideas and innovations will drive growth and sustainability for the coming years, which gives companies – and their employees - -license to think different (to echo that now-famous Apple advertising campaign). Recently, I heard a prominent corporate executive say that when a client speaks with him they always want to know what he thinks will happen in the future, not what he thinks about the past. So, my prediction is that a future-orientation will become more important for us in CSR this year.

So, that's it. Those are my CSR trends to watch in 2013. I am interested to know whether you agree or disagree, and whether you have your own CSR predictions for the year. I would love to have more of my readers commenting through the links that are provided at the end of each of my posts. Unfortunately, circumstances prevent these from being posted live, but if you email a comment or question to me, we will publish it. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter @tmcclimonCSRNow and comment there. Thanks very much, and have a healthy and sustainable new year!

 

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