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Corporate Social Responsibility Trends in 2017

January 9, 2017

For the past six years, I’ve been predicting what trends will impact Corporate Social Responsibility in the coming year. Sometimes, I’m right; sometimes I’m less right.

Last year, I suggested the following:

  • CSR will go from voluntary to required.
  • Materiality is the new black.
  • The [for-profit vs. not-for-profit] lines they are a-changing.
  • The [CSR] bar keeps getting raised.
  • Reports of CSR’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Not bad, and certainly better than many pollsters did last year!

But, given the recent Presidential election in the United States, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, continuing turmoil in Europe and the Middle East, and an economy that has been good for some, but not for others, 2017 seems like a particularly difficult year to make predictions in.

But, here goes. My five CSR trends for 2017, in no particular order:

  • Sustainability is the new norm. With the possibility that the Environmental Protection Agency will be weakened or dismantled, and that other governmental attempts to positively impact climate change will sputter, citizens will increasingly look to corporations to be the stewards of the environment. Customer, investor and employee pressures on company executives to voluntarily reduce their carbon footprints, and ensure that their products and services are environmentally friendly will grow in opposition to possible disillusion with government practices. While some will continue to think that climate change is a hoax, more companies will take up the mantle and tout their achievements. Sustainability is here to stay.
  • Materiality is still the new black. A recent study by Ethical Corporation found that 60 percent of respondents agreed that too much time is being spent on the CSR reporting process. Quite frankly, I was surprised it wasn’t higher. With the proliferation of watch dog groups, procurement surveys, disclosure projects and calls for transparency, it’s almost impossible for companies to keep up. So, figuring out those issues that are really relevant to your company’s operations and business, and focusing on tracking and reporting on those concerns, will continue to be a primary focus of CSR departments and companies in the coming year.
  • Companies will be expected to lean into advocacy work. With possible sweeping changes in social programs and governmental subsidies in many countries, companies will increasingly be expected to take positions on social issues and to make their collective voices heard. Gone are the days that companies can hide from controversial issues in their markets. Someone is going to ask and everyone is going to watch. This new role for companies is fraught with difficulties and will surely prove a minefield for many. Companies should try and determine in advance what issues are relevant enough and important enough to weigh in on.
  • Globalization marches on. Despite worker backlash and unease over some trade alliances, the power of globalization is hard to stop and turn back. Companies continue to want to grow their businesses in new markets, and the search for talent knows no border. Increasingly, as companies expand and contract in and out of global markets, local issues will need to be addressed against the backdrop of global values and practices. Expect more focus on global company values as guideposts for local company action, and more business alliances to be formed in order to compete in the global marketplace.
  • Engaged employees rule. Perhaps the biggest and most important asset of any company is its employees. Employees are brand ambassadors, community volunteers, sustainability champions, consumers, voters, and citizens. They are the heart and soul of every company, and the more engaged they are in the company’s mission and values, the better off the company and the communities where they live and work. So much has been written about this truism in the past few years that this almost goes without saying. But, companies that focus on the recruitment, retention and engagement of their employees will be those who succeed and successfully navigate the troubled waters ahead.

So, those are my predictions for 2017. Stay tuned at various points along the way for more to be said on each of these trends. But, for now, here’s wishing you a happy, prosperous and sustainable new year!

If you have a comment or question, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and start a conversation there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog posting with friends and colleagues.  


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