2011: Now Trending in Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability

06 January 2011

By Chad Tragakis, US Director, Corporate Social Responsibility

In spite of changes in Congress, questions over the validity of research, and a general “green fatigue” on the part of many Americans, climate change will still be accepted as the primary environmental issue and challenge of our time.  Research strongly suggests that citizens expect businesses to play a role in mitigating it, and act in concert with government to address it.  Additionally, business risk related to climate change will remain increasingly important to mainstream investors, and many will continue to scrutinize corporate sustainability reports and other collateral as a window into the company and its exposure.

External influencers and organizations will continue to impact consumer brand perceptions more than corporate PR or CSR reports.  Research suggests that consumers want more information on a company’s commitment to corporate responsibility and sustainability, but need that information in simpler ways and where it connects to them.

Interest in the environment will remain strong on the part of both businesses and consumers. We will also continue to see an increase in firms applying for LEED certification for their facilities, and entering into strategic partnerships with environmental conservation organizations.

Water use, availability and scarcity will continue to be of growing concern in nearly every part of the world, posing a major operational and reputational issue for companies.  This is especially true for firms in water-intensive industries, but since every company uses water, it will be an issue for the entire business sector.

Corporate Implications

Leading companies are recognizing and responding to consumer demand for action and information regarding climate change, and embracing this as an opportunity for reputation building and thought leadership.  To stand out, companies will need to rethink where and how they share and celebrate their climate change related programs, policies and partnerships with customers and stakeholders.  As is often the case, one innovative and memorable effort will be worth more than dozens of smaller ones.

In response to changing influences on consumer brand perceptions, sector leaders will need to integrate their company’s CSR story into mainstream consumer communications channels–from marketing and television advertising to in-store displays and product packaging to digital communications.

It will be essential for companies to carefully navigate “green” opportunities and partnerships, as vocal consumers, activist NGOs and government regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission continue to call firms out for greenwashing, fraudulent claims and abuse of marketing communications.

Companies will need to get in front of the water issue first by conducting assessments of their true water “footprint,” taking steps to minimize use throughout their supply chains and product lifecycles and then highlighting success stories and sharing best practices with customers, partners, regulators and other stakeholders.

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