Where in CSR are we headed? CBSR's Top 5 Trends for Q2, 2011

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Jun 29, 2011 1:00 PM ET

The CBSR Blog

Welcome to the first post to a new CBSR blog! We look forward to sharing views on CSR in Canada as new developments arise in our work with our member network. Visit the blog at www.cbsr.ca/blog.

By: Adine Mees   As we cross over into the second half of 2011 I'm reminded of the constant pace of change in our space. With the maturing of CSR (and some will say, the ‘commercialization” of CSR),  the conversation is revolving more and more around the deeper integration of sustainability into business value, strategy, culture and the intersection of CSR with core business lines. I am optimistic as I see a desire amongst our members to marry business success with sustainable business practices and I know many of you believe, like me, that they are one and the same.  However, I am also concerned about the number of companies not yet ‘in the tent’ – we will need broad and deep business engagement to address the sustainability challenges that continue to increase in their impact.

Here are CBSR's top five CSR trends for Q2. What do you see on your landscape?

1.   Broader investor support for ESG issues

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors have been elevating in the minds of investors. A recent study by Ernst & Young notes that in 2010 “resolutions focusing on social and environmental issues made up the largest portion of all shareholder proposals.” The study also notes that 26.8% of 2010 ESG-related proposals received enough votes to achieve the 30% support threshold, at which point many Boards take note. This trend advances the rise of CSR strategic oversight to the Board governance level, as noted in CBSR’s CSR Governance Guidelines.

2. Companies who integrate CSR into brand are winning the war for consumer awareness

The 2011 GlobeScan Radar Report, a survey of consumer attitudes to company CSR performance, shows a large gap between consumer expectations and perceptions of industry performance. GlobeScan suggests that the gap reflects silos inside companies separating operational CSR, and communications, public affairs, marketing and other externally facing functions. The success of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan , GE’s ecoimagination program, and the recent work of Campbell Soup, show that those who are integrating CSR effectively into brand platforms are winning the war for consumer awareness.

3. Using social media to engage on CSR issues

Companies have been using social media for some time for philanthropic programs like Pepsi Refresh  or to encourage consumer behaviour change, as with Cisco’s One Million Acts of Green. We are seeing that connection with online communities evolve as a way to share sustainability information and engage with stakeholders where they are actively spending time online. Recently CBSR member PotashCorp, announced an online shareholder survey and director’s videos on the company’s pay practices on Twitter, Facebook and their website and many members are using social media to announce CSR report releases.

4. Valuing sustainability impacts increases

Activity by Canadian Tire and Puma reflects an emerging move towards valuing sustainability impacts. Since Q3 2010 Canadian Tire  has been quantifying the effects of its business sustainability initiatives through forecasting the annual avoided costs of energy use, GHG emissions and waste reduction. This spring Puma also announced an approach to the economic valuation of environmental impacts generated by GHG and water consumption across the supply chain. We expect this integration to grow among committed companies.

5. Targeted employee volunteering programs growing

Targeted employee volunteering programs are trending as a significant growth area within Corporate Community Involvement (CCI). CBSR held one of its most well attended learning webinars on Building an Employee Volunteer Program (EVP), and we have seen member companies creating positions to develop EVPs. Employee volunteering expert Chris Jarvis  notes that “employees represent the strongest and broadest link between most corporations and their stakeholders.” These new EVP initiatives, for example Edelman Canada’s The Little Give, complement, enhance, and link with overall community investment, signature programs and brand. Creating or updating an EVP is an effective way for companies to engage with employees and stakeholders, shape company culture and enhancing reputation in the community.