Five CSR Trends to Watch in 2018

January 22, 2018


Tim McClimon

Each year, I predict what trends will impact Corporate Social Responsibility in the coming year and look back on how well I did with my predictions the preceding year. In an ever-changing and challenging global environment, it’s hard to know what will happen next, but I think my batting average is pretty good!

In 2017, I predicted that the following trends would play a critical role in CSR work:

  • Sustainability is the new norm. Despite some retreats by governments, citizens are increasingly looking to companies to voluntarily reduce their carbon footprints and be stewards of the environment.
  • Materiality is still the new black. Focusing on the issues that are most relevant to your company – and really having an impact on those issues -- has replaced a widespread, shatter shot approach to managing CSR programs.
  • Companies will be expected to lean into advocacy work. Companies are increasingly asked to take positions on social issues and to have their voices heard. But, this new found role is fraught with difficulties for many companies.
  • Globalization marches on. Despite some worker backlash and unease over trade alliances, the power of globalization is hard to stop and turn back. Companies continue to want to grow their businesses and workforces in new markets, and the search for talent knows no borders.
  • Engaged employees rule. Employees are brand ambassadors, community volunteers, sustainability champions, consumers, voters and citizens. They are a company’s biggest asset.

How well did I do?

In 2018, I believe all of these trends will continue, but I’ll highlight a couple of them as particularly important as well as to add a couple more here:

  • Companies lean into advocacy work. According to a 2017 Cone Communications study, 67 percent of Americans believe progress on social and environmental issues will be slowed in the absence of government regulation. But, 63 percent of Americans are hopeful that business will take the lead to drive critical social and environmental change. Who could have predicted that citizens and activists would look to corporations to take the place of government in creating and driving social and environmental change? This represents both a huge opportunity and an incredible challenge for companies to navigate these uncharted waters. Look for more consultants and academics to be offering companies advice on how to do it successfully.
  • Transparency is the new green. As noted by, partly in response to heightened regulatory oversight [in some parts of the world], partly as a result of ever-increasing availability of almost instantaneous information, and partly due to consumer and shareholder demands, companies are becoming increasingly more transparent with their operations, their values and their positions. Long gone are the days that companies could hide behind trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements and just plain stonewalling. Now, companies are expected to not only disclose how they operate, but also to disclose their plans for the future.
  • Creating value for both the company and the community becomes the norm. More and more companies will focus attention on how their products and services help create value for the company’s various stakeholders – investors, customers, partners, regulators, communities and the planet. Companies can no longer afford to look at products and lines of business as vertical, stand-alone profit centers. How a company’s products and services relate to one another, and more importantly to a company’s overall mission and strategy – as well as their impact on their communities and the planet -- will continue to be debated in board rooms and conference rooms, but ultimately the push for a higher purpose and more long-term thinking should prevail.
  • Codes of conduct and ethics take on increased importance. One has only to pick up a daily newspaper or follow a social media network to read about the importance of appropriate conduct in the workplace. Whether it’s in the entertainment industry, start-ups, academia or nonprofits, the news is replete with examples of outrageous or inappropriate behavior by leaders, mentors and managers. Companies cannot afford to be seen as condoning such behavior, and employees are demanding that inappropriate conduct be stopped and punished. So, expect to see more about the importance of codes of conduct – particularly as they relate to sexual harassment and interaction between employees.
  • Engaged employees still rule. And, speaking of employees, there is a growing recognition that employees are the heart and soul and hands of every company, and to the extent that they are actively engaged in furthering the mission and business objectives of the company, the better the company will perform, the more likely it is to attract talent, and the longer its employees will stay. This is particularly true of millennials, but no less true for baby boomers and generation Zers who are now just entering the workforce. Expect to see more emphasis placed on employee engagement and wellness programs this year.

So, those are my predictions for 2018. Let me know what you think by following me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and starting a conversation there. Thanks for reading my blog these past seven years, and here’s to a prosperous and sustainable new year!

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