Study: Companies must do more to be considered 'responsible' by consumers

The Cone Communications study also found Americans are willing to reward or boycott companies based on corporate values.

BOSTON: American consumers’ definition of what it takes to be a responsible company has broadened, according to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study.

The study was conducted by M/A/R/C Research via an online survey in early March. A random sample of 1,030 adults, comprising 500 men and 530 women older than 20, took part.

Cone has conducted this study every other year since 1993. Alison DaSilva, EVP, CSR strategy at Cone, said one factor that has remained consistent over the years is the majority of Americans expect companies to address social and environmental issues. This year, that number was 86% of those surveyed.

However, consumers’ definition of what it takes to be a responsible company has become more all-encompassing. Now the list of expectations includes being a good employer (94%); operating in a way that protects and benefits society and the environment (90%); creating products and services that ensure individual wellbeing (89%); investing in causes in local communities and around the globe (87%); and standing up for important social justice issues (78%).

"American consumers today are not necessarily delineating between a company’s philanthropic support of social issues, their environmental commitment, or their point of view and how they are advocating around different social justice issues," said DaSilva. "They are all being lumped together in a way that is connected to what that company is really standing for and standing up for."

Further, 78% of consumers support companies that stand up for important social justice issues, such as cost of higher education (81%); immigration (78%); climate change (76%); gun control (65%); and LGBTQ rights (64%).

The study also found Americans are willing to reward or boycott companies based on corporate values. Of those surveyed, 87% would purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about; and 76% refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.

Half of the respondents said they have boycotted a company for irresponsible business actions or because that company supported an issue contrary to their beliefs (46%) in the last year.

Americans have resoundingly prioritized economic development (34%) as the top issue for companies to address, consistent since 2011. Other important areas include poverty and hunger (19%); environment (15%); human rights (14%); education (9%); and health and disease (9%).

"There is a lot of negative noise in the news today, and consumers are concerned progress is going to be slowed on important issues," said DaSilva."But they are looking for companies to continue what they are doing and drive change in the future."

Two-out-of-three (67%) of those surveyed believe progress on social and environmental issues will be slowed in the absence of government regulation – and their confidence in organizations to drive change is low.

Those surveyed said companies must look within to make a positive impact, noting the most effective way to solve social and economic issues is through individuals (43%); nonprofits (18%); government (17%); business (13%); and religious organizations (9%).

Nearly eight-in-10 (79%) said they expect businesses to continue improving their CSR efforts, and nearly two-thirds (63%) said they believe business will take the lead to propel social and environmental change moving forward.

"Overall, the key takeaway is that consumers are expecting companies to have an opinion and take a stance for something they care about, and they need to ensure their business practices are aligned with that point of view," said DaSilva."For those that can authentically and credibly engage around those issues, they are going to really break apart from the pack and connect with consumers in a deep and meaningful way."

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