5 CSR Trends That Will Blossom In 2016
Every January for the past five years, I pause to reflect on the state of corporate social responsibility (CSR). And every year, I come to the same conclusion: things are looking up. As CSR continues to mature, year after year brings new and unique voices to the table, vibrant innovations and more widespread, integrated adoption among our world’s most powerful companies as well as small and mid-size enterprises. While CSR challenges remain and grow increasingly complex, 2015 proved that companies cannot and will not shy away from addressing them. Below are some of the most prevalent CSR trends from the past year that will shape the industry in 2016 and beyond.
Business is (finally) galvanizing around climate change
According to Kathrin Winkler, chief sustainability officer at EMC, “2015 will be especially remembered as the year when business, governments, civil society, and even the church ALL stepped up action on climate change.” She’s right. Not long ago, corporations were seen as adversarial in the fight against climate change. Today, they are an integral part of the solution. At COP21 in Paris, corporate players stepped up to lead talks and deals aimed at curbing the consequences of climate change. We saw coalitions and conversations across a range of industries, including agriculture, transportation, technology, retail and everything in between. Many believe the success of the climate conference had a lot to do with the increased involvement from the private sector.
In 2016, the onus will be on these companies – ranging from Coca-Cola to Proctor & Gamble to Sony – to follow through with commitments and continue to keep up the momentum.
Social justice is no longer considered off limits for businesses
In case there was any doubt, the (USA) Supreme Court’s historic decision on gay marriage confirmed that mainstream brands have no reservations about taking a stance on social justice issues – especially gay rights. From American Airlines to Macy’s to Jell-O, there was no shortage of brands voicing support for the #LoveWins campaign. We also saw more brands, such as H&M and Clean & Clear, include transgender models in campaigns.
That said, there still remains room for brands to take a bigger leadership role in the transgender conversation, whether it’s in the context of employee policies or public-facing storytelling campaigns. In addition, brands are continuing to take a leadership role in addressing growing inequality in the neighborhoods they work. For example, Twitter launched a program, NeighborNest, that provides support for San Francisco’s central Market Street and Tenderloin neighborhood communities, and Zendesk announced its Zendesk Neighborhood Foundation, which provides support for nonprofits committed to neighborhood renewal in San Francisco.
Even luxury brands are becoming more transparent
Reflecting on CSR trends, author and consultant Alice Korngold talked about the rise of fairness. “Get it right,” she said. “Everyone can see you.” Transparency has become an expectation of companies today, and this year we saw more of it from the luxury sector in particular. Here’s how Diana Verde Nieto, co-founder and CEO of Positive Luxury, explains the change: “Pivotal events, including the passing of the Modern Slavery Act, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and COP 21 have moved integrating sustainability into business models from a ‘good thing to do’ to a legal obligation and has increased demand from stakeholders for transparency and action.”
Millennials in particular – a group with increasing disposable income – expect the brands they purchase from to operate sustainably, ethically and openly. Nieto says that luxury brands are stepping up to meet this expectation, citing the example of Kering’s decision to make their environmental profit and loss accounting statement public for the first time in 2015.
Collaboration continues to be key
Most companies understand that a collaborative approach across departments is necessary for CSR success. The smartest companies also know that collaboration outside of the organization is critical. In 2015, we saw companies including Unilever, Nike, General Motors and IKEA join together against climate change under the We Mean Business coalition. Additionally, major brands such as Starbucks, FedEx, JCPenney, Pizza Hut, Target, Walmart and many others are collaborating to address inequality through the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a coalition of employers committed to hiring young Americans who are out of school and not currently working. As mentioned, there was also a great deal of collaboration between companies happening at COP21, including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which brings together leaders from Amazon, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn and Facebook, among others. Look out for more of these types of collaborations in 2016.
Unique and viral storytelling continues to be a requirement
Stories have always been an important part of CSR, and this year, companies got more creative with both content and platform. Compelling storytelling with great characters, smart design and interactive components leads to educated, engaged consumers and employees who help their companies drive CSR initiatives forward. For inspiration, visit Marks & Spencer’s website, which includes a variety of rich content including an “about our farmers” page that tells the stories of individual suppliers and how they support the company’s CSR commitments. Nike’s CSR site, which features interactive data visualizations and compelling content about sustainable innovations, is also one to watch. Another good one: Google’s Made with Code initiative recently partnered with Pixar to launch an interactive tutorial with Inside Out characters to help encourage more girls to get involved with computer science.
The CSR storytelling trend has also given way to global advertising and PR agencies, including 72andSunny, expanding socially responsible marketing services. In 2016, it’s likely we’ll see some companies begin to experiment with virtual reality (VR) to give their communities new ways to engage and build empathy for causes. We saw some promising VR work this year from creative agency Matter Unlimited, which developed “Inside Impact: East Africa” and launched the film at 2015 CGI Conference.
Talking about CSR in 2015 and 2016, Dave Stangis, vice president of public affairs and corporate responsibility at Campbell Soup Company, commented that this is “clearly the launch of the ‘Purpose Era’ in business.” It’s true. 2015 proved that responsibility, transparency and purpose are all expectations for the modern company. In 2016, expect brands to grow even more creative, collaborative and inclusive as their corporate responsibility initiatives come of age.
This article by Susan MacPherson was first published on Forbes.com. To read the full article click here.
*Featured image: “Google and Pixar Are Teaming Up to Get Girls to Love Coding”