6 CSR Trends to Watch in 2017

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(The following article which first appeared on Forbes.com is being shared with permission by the author, Susan McPherson)

In the past decade, we’ve witnessed a stunning transition as corporate social responsibility (CSR) evolved from a nice-to-have silo to a fundamental strategic priority for businesses large and small. More recently, we’ve watched as companies went beyond their own walls, using their influence to advocate for global solutions around issues such as climate change, education, poverty, and equal and human rights.

As we embark on 2017 — a year that’s likely to be fraught with political uncertainty and policy upheaval – the big question for CSR is: what happens now? Like many of my peers, I predict that under new challenges and changing regulations, companies won’t just uphold their commitments to sustainability – they will be at the forefront of global progress like never before.

We reached out to CSR experts to get their input on how the new administration will impact corporate sustainability, what other trends will emerge in 2017 and how the industry will continue to evolve.

A commitment to sustainability regardless of political changes

Tim Mohin, chief executive at GRI, echoed the belief that sustainability will remain a priority for corporations: “2017 will obviously be a year of great changes! It is likely that many social and environmental regulations will be weakened. This has happened before. I can recall a similar circumstance when I worked at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan years. The strong backlash back then created a major change, including the bi-partisan Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The difference this time is the rise of corporate responsibility. While these words would have been considered an oxymoron in the ’80s, today most big companies are committed to reporting on their environmental and social impacts and continuously improving their performance. This will not change because it is now engrained in company reputation and brand.”

 Dell’s chief responsibility officer, Trisa Thompson, provided her take on why commitments to sustainability will not waiver: “Completely regardless of the global political environment, corporations will continue the march toward sustainable production because it makes sense and is a business necessity.” It’s also become a criterion for working with certain partners: “We are seeing an increase in sustainability and social responsibility show up as a weighted factor in RFPs, particularly from European Governments,” Thompson said.


Corporations stepping up as advocates and problem-solvers
Many executives believe that this growing commitment to sustainability and responsibility means we’ll see more corporations step up to address challenges outside the company. Alice Korngold, consultant and author of “A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot,” said: “With recent developments, the last part of my book’s title (Where Governments Cannot) is more relevant than ever. The good news is that enough companies are leading the way, and investors are reinforcing corporate initiatives, to grow shareholder value by finding innovative solutions to global problems.”

Dalila Wilson-Scott, SVP of community investment at Comcast and president of the Comcast Foundation, predicts that corporations will “become more proactive voices and take actions in support of equity, both internally and in communities.”

Kati Ihamäki, who runs sustainability for Finnar, believes more companies will also step up to help tackle the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She said: “We’ll see more corporations mapping the UN SDGs to their operations and values, asking themselves: Are we fit for the future? Can we help to provide solutions to these worldwide issues? It will be even more vital for companies to work together with states and NGOs to create value for societies, and in turn business opportunities that drive long-term, scalable value creation.”

New, rising expectations of the CSO

With more corporations stepping up to drive social impact – both inside and outside the company – the role of the CSR leader continues to grow more sophisticated. According to Nicolette van Exel, head of CSR at Intuit, “The change in the global socio-economic environment and focus on purpose-driven business models has raised the bar for CSR leaders. There is a new demand and reliance on CSR leaders to influence the private sector. Leaders are broadening their skills and influence across human resources, government affairs and branding to align social impact with their company’s business strategy, talent pipeline, and policy environment. Many are starting to report directly to the CEO and are held accountable to lead strategic change initiatives from the top like point of entry marketing, market fit and business model innovation.”

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