In my last post, I revisited The Economist's controversial story, “The Good Company,” and encouraged people to re-engage in the corporate social responsibility debate or at least get better informed on the arguments of both sides.
Today we ask the question: how has the debate played out recently?
It's fair to say that CSR is alive and well in the executive suites of corporate America. A study published in June by Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact trumpeted the headline “Chief executives believe overwhelmingly that sustainability has become critical to their success, and could be fully embedded into core business within ten years.”
A bit of hyperbole, but the data from the survey of 766 CEOs is quite compelling. In 2007, 50% of CEOs said sustainability had become part of their strategy and operations, according to another study. In 2010, the number jumped to 81%.
Why do CEOs think sustainability is so important? Have they acknowledged that their corporations are “stakeholders themselves” and it's in their enlightened self-interest to help increase global stability and prosperity?
Or do they simply see this as a marketing fait accompli? In other words, if our customers demand we demonstrate sustainable business practices and produce sustainable products, so be it. Or are CEOs still reeling from the spike in distrust following the global economic meltdown or do they see a focus on responsible behavior as an easy way to win some trust back?
The study suggests that all these factors are in play, though perhaps less so on the corporations-as-stakeholders front. According to the study, brand, trust, and reputation were cited overwhelmingly (72%) as the reason for the CEOs' push on sustainability.
It's worth noting that while the study focused on sustainability, when asked which “big issues” they were most concerned with, CEOs cited education and climate change, in that order. It would seem that not even the threat of another Hurricane Katrina can keep a CEO up at night like worrying about where his or her next generation of educated employees will be coming from.
Paul Jensen is chairman of the North American corporate practice at Weber Shandwick.