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Five Trends to Watch in Corporate Social Responsibility

Tim McClimon

Much has been written about the current state of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and depending on your point of view, its waxing or waning influence inside the world’s largest corporations.

While it may be true that some companies have de-emphasized their CSR programs while they were fighting for survival or focused on maintaining some semblance of order, I think corporate social responsibility will continue to grow in importance inside most major publicly traded companies – particularly those who are interested in enhancing their reputations with stakeholders (and isn’t that just about every company?).

Here are five trends in CSR that I think are worth watching in 2011 and 2012. These aren’t new – most of them have been around for years – but I think they will gain more attention in the coming year.

1. Responsibility as a company value

While you would expect to see words like “responsibility,” “sustainability,” “respect,” and “citizenship” in mission statements and corporate values at companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine, and Starbucks, these concepts are showing up in statements of companies like Adobe, PepsiCo, and Walmart as well.

Johnson & Johnson is credited with being the first company to include a responsibility to the community in its corporate credo in 1943. Here at American Express, Good Citizenship is one of our shared – and enthusiastically followed – corporate values. While the CSR office is considered the primary steward of this value, it’s expected that everyone in the company will conduct themselves in a manner that displays and promotes good citizenship.

2. Growing integration between corporate philanthropy, volunteerism, and sustainability

Integration is the essence of CSR so it’s not surprising to see it as a trend. But, I’ve noticed many more of my corporate philanthropy colleagues who now have job descriptions that look like mine: one office that integrates philanthropy, employee volunteerism and engagement, environmental responsibility and sustainability programs, Community Reinvestment Act grants (for financial services companies), possibly community relations. Allstate, Time Warner, Pfizer, and Boeing are examples. These functions within a company are closely associated with one another, so it’s becoming increasingly common to see them managed in one place.

3. Growing recognition that CSR can build skills in the workforce

The recession caused companies to focus their attention on every job and every individual within their ranks. And, it caused many companies to severely limit resources for leadership and skills training programs.

However, there was a corresponding recognition that CSR and volunteering are excellent ways of building skills in the workforce – particularly through pro bono or skills-based volunteering. For example, IBM has 145,000 employees performing community service globally, and many of those employees are using their special skills on behalf of communities.

4. More and better communications about CSR

While companies increase the transparency of their CSR activities, they will also be struggling to enhance the way that they communicate proactively about the positive attributes of what they are doing. Corporate Social Responsibility Reports are ubiquitous.

Social media like Facebook and Twitter – and blogs like this one – are increasingly being used by companies to not only report on what they do, but to promote what they do for the benefit of their various stakeholders.

5. Increasing call for more accountability, measurement, and transparency

It’s a paradox of our modern society that the more transparency and accountability that companies engage in, the more that’s expected of them. Watchdog groups, bloggers, governments, vendors, business partners, and citizens are all demanding more and better information about corporate impact on the environment and their communities.

Let me know what you think about these trends in corporate social responsibility. I’ll respond in a future posting.

*This post was originally published on

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