4 Important Trends in CSR Today
We’ve been working on CSR projects for over 30 years, and if we know one thing it’s that the landscape of enterprise is always changing. Attitudes change, the challenges it seeks to overcome change and expectations of stakeholders change. In this article we bring you four important trends happening in CSR today, so you can see what topics of conversation are happening, and maybe even be inspired to look at your own project from a new angle.
Full Lifecycle CSR
Bill Clinton, talking about philanthropy in 2013, stated “We live in an interdependent world. Every time you cut off somebody else’s opportunities, you shrink your own horizons.”¹ This is the perspective increasingly driving investment in CSR for the world’s largest organisations.
We are seeing businesses take the perspective that focusing social investment on one headline-grabbing ‘cause’ isn’t the most sustainable choice. Instead over recent years, there has been a huge increase in the number of businesses taking responsibility for the full lifecycle of their products.
A great example is the relationship many coffee chains have built with energy business Bio-Bean, which transforms their used coffee ground by-product into a source of renewable energy at little extra cost.
It is a concept which has been around for many years, a key milestone coming when sustainability leaders Levi’s produced their ground-breaking ‘cradle-to-grave’ report on the ethical lifecycle of their jeans a decade ago, but a new urgency is being felt to use the knowledge of a products lifecycle more strategically as producers begin to recognise ethical failures within that lifecycle as a potential missed opportunity to add value.
It also has a lot to do with the second biggest trend:
Expectations of businesses are changing. Finding and sharing information is easier than ever before. Where once there was a remove between a product and its foreign supply chain, now every consumer, investor or governing body can find out more about how an industry or business makes an impact, regardless of locality.
Voluntary disclosures of business practices, and social data such as diversity records, a named supply chain, and a candid approach to environmental impact, is increasing. From a perspective of self-interest, this is good for business, and many of those committed to transparency have reaped the rewards as consumer expectations for ethical conduct are met, risk of brand damage is mitigated, and the business is given a platform to talk about their good work, instead of responding to negative enquiries.
Large businesses aren’t just focused on their own CSR goals, they’re taking a collective responsibility, and the benefits for everyone are huge. The global business community increasingly engages with each other in their approach to sustainability, and in doing so are sharing knowledge, resources, and governance to amplify progress.
The 2015 100,000 Opportunities initiative brings together Starbucks, Hilton, Walmart and many more, in the largest employer-led coalition in history, with the objective of creating economic opportunity for young Americans. We Mean Business connects thousands of businesses with the same goal of creating a low-carbon economy, and boasts representatives from IKEA, Nike, Unilever, and Bank of America on its board. The Ethical Fashion Collective brings together thirty high street and luxury partner brands who want to build a more responsible fashion industry under the slogan ‘Not Charity, Just Work’, a testament to the fact that ethical business is better business for all in the long run.
This approach is exciting for everyone. The quicker effective ethical challenges are shared and businesses can tap into each other’s resources to achieve their sustainability objectives, the quicker they can be achieved and costs are lowered. The sharing economy is a sustainable economy.
The Rise of Sustainability Reporting
A decade ago a business documenting its sustainability and social impact was niche. Now, it is not only the norm for global organisations, but it is law in many countries, with 2018 marked as the first year the EU demands that its largest businesses collect and publish information addressing “social, environmental and human rights impact, diversity and anti-corruption policies”.
The simple benefits, in addition to meeting new compliances, are huge. Levi’s, a leader in the sustainability field in the early 2000’s, have come a long way since their early ‘cradle-to-grave’ assessments, but that consistent reporting has given them a platform to develop real, powerful reporting. They can tell you the exact amount water used and carbon emitted in every product they sell, they can even tell you the jean washing habits of individual countries and the environmental impact of each different scenario.
This information, built up over years of reporting, empowers them to make informed decisions on how to best develop their approach to sustainability. It also means they can shout about the incredible achievement of saving one billion litres of water between 2011 and 2015.
A communications trend we’re seeing as companies engage more with CSR is increasingly creative ways of sharing the information they collect with the stakeholders and communities who matter the most.
Social media has been a significant contributor to this, influencing organisations with complex CSR structures to create a dedicated voice for sharing their sustainability efforts. Nike Better World and RBS Sustainability are great examples of this, bringing together the broad objectives of their CSR projects into a coherent theme.
Other innovative approaches include Heineken creating a gaming app communicating the scope and figures of their CSR achievements, Virgin’s 360-degree report tour which aims to show the viewer what the numbers mean in real terms, and Alcatel Lucant creating an augmented reality app, which brings case studies from their figure driven report to life.