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Back to the Future: Six Rising Priorities in Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR is shifting the way business is being done. What will the future hold?

Submitted by: Guest Contributor

Posted: Apr 04, 2014 – 10:45 AM EST

Tags: csr, environment, ikea, unilever, jobs, cso, social entrepreneurship, data, sustainability, reporting, supply chains


By Susan Nickbarg

Looking ahead and beyond is never easy. Rising priorities about how a business may operate, develop new ideas, and sustain growth while reducing its environmental footprint continue to shift as our economic and environmental circumstances shift.

Along with other panelists, I had to opportunity to give some thought during a recent Twitter chat (#CSR2014) hosted by CSRwire on February 12, 2014 to predict future CSR issues and trends. Among the issues we discussed: a year of severe climate events, the continued growth of benefit corporations and multi-sector standard setting organizations, the rise of social entrepreneurship, we were finally asked to predict about what is to come.

We didn't manage to cover all that might be ahead – as is often the case with time-restricted conversations. Subsequently, here are several more of my suggestions for what are likely to become rising priorities among businesses when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability:

1. Corporate social responsibility jobs: Here to stay?

Will multinational companies keep and/or grow their corporate social responsibility and sustainability staff? Only six years after the Dow Jones Sustainability Index University-of-Maryland-Social-Enterprise-Innovation-Symposiumlaunched in 1999, I began communicating about how to set up a corporate social responsibility and sustainability department from the ground up. This was at a time when few established corporate social responsibility and sustainability departments existed in the United States.

At the time, many CSOs (Chief Sustainability Officers) and CROs (Chief Responsibility Officers) wondered how long they would have a job.

With growing compliance pressures however, along with searches for new or steady supplies of manufacturing materials, and a focus on supply chain resiliency, headcount will increase.

The question that will be tested is not whether corporate social responsibility jobs are here to stay, but whether hiring trends will lean toward corporate social responsibility and sustainability generalists or specialists.

2. Should colleges be graduating as many social entrepreneurs as MBAs?

At some point, we're going to want to track the number of graduated social entrepreneurs as well as MBAs, and how fast the social entrepreneur job sector is creating new types of products and services and jobs as compared to global conglomerates. For many new graduates, the dream job is no longer a big brand job leading into a C-suite position. Instead, many are focusing on solving social and environmental issues by starting their own ventures. What this means for larger companies is a growing need to dial up community impact efforts, offer more volunteerism options, and refocus retention strategies on work-life balance as well as social purpose.

3. Climate- and health-related announcements: Part of the daily weather forecast?

The latest study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that most regions of the world will witness a variety of negative effects because of global warming.

With global warming, a rising priority for consumers is the health impact of climate change and disasters, man made and natural, and with it the availability and quality of water and food, and the quality of air.

It is not too far fetched to suggest that the correlation of climate-related health metrics (e.g., amount of CO2 in the air today) could be mainstreamed and added to the weather forecast rather than vague ‘code orange’ language. In fact, adding climate and health ‘quality metrics’ to the daily weather forecast, in addition to temperatures, is not too dissimilar from adding calories to measure food consumption while addressing obesity concerns.

Why not equip consumers with the full context?

4. Use of big data and cloud computing: New opportunities for sustainability tracking and decision-making?

Big data and cloud computing is a trend engulfing many businesses as well as the IT industry. Expanded IT infrastructure, including social, mobile, and cloud computing allows for collecting more data, much of which is cloud-big-data-signsensitive in nature. It pertains equally to governance, compliance, and communications of a business; opening up predictive modeling for insights on sustainability as it affects product innovation, supply chain integration, and business strategy.

Identifying data management opportunities and challenges and prioritizing data analysis tied to sustainability, efficiency and innovation will become rising priorities as cloud computing expands.

5. Will supply chains fully report externalities and serve the higher end of the ‘base of the pyramid’?

Multinational corporations will continue to embed sustainability and environmental impacts into supply chains and share data with suppliers as they report on externalities and reduction targets such as scope 1 or all direct GHG emissions; scope 2, or indirect GHG emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam; and/or scope 3 or other indirect emissions such as the extraction and production of purchased materials and fuels not covered in scope 2 as described per the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

Also, with the rise of the BRIC countries and parts of the base of the pyramid populations moving into the middle-income group, supply chains will be pushed to become more cost effective and efficient with material resources as well as energy and water conservation to avoid falling prey to inflation.

6. Advertising campaigns and social media: Will there be more eco-related ads that draw attention to sustainable brand posturing?

Several corporate social responsible-minded companies are beginning to put CSR types of messages into their brand advertising communication. In 2014, IKEA Ireland and U.K. debuted the 'Wonderful Everyday' advertising campaign, which explains the brand’s values and sustainability ethos. One TV ad even touted use of LED lightbulbs (IKEA is committed to phasing out incandescent lights by 2016). Before the IKEA campaign aired, green-lightbulb-grassUnilever produced an eco-related advertising campaign, “shower pooling,” with its Axe brand aimed at saving water with it underpinning water efficiency behaviors.

Unilever also uses its website as a communications hub to actively solicit consumers and potential partners to help innovate sustainable product solutions ‘to create a better future" at

These examples represent a rising priority in marketing messaging, product design, and product resource use and delivery. Ones that focus on internal and external centralized CSR-related brand messaging and communications as well as on product innovation, sustainable product consumption, design, and sourcing.

So which one of these are the most imminent for your business?

Collectively, these trends inform us that corporate social responsibility and sustainability is here to stay as an integrated discipline for business operations. These same trends also elevate and signify for us the continuing ability and role of business to be a part of the sustainable development solution.

What are some changing priorities challenging your organization? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment here, connecting with me on Twitter or with CSRwire on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author:

Susan Nickbarg is Principal of SVN Marketing, a marketing and corporate social responsibility/sustainability consultancy. Susan can be reached at and on Twitter @svnickbarg.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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