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27 Jan. 2020 | Comments (0)

2019 was a pivotal year in Corporate Social Responsibility as the concepts of corporate responsibility and sustainability received significant media attention, and the trends that I identified last year at this time (better dialogue, more learning, more disaster prevention, greater equity and the growing importance of Generation Z-ers) remained timely and relevant. Still, 2020 promises to bring more challenges and opportunities to the field, and leaders should pay attention to these developing global trends in Corporate Social Responsibility:

Searching for the truth. While corporate transparency and disclosure have long been expected by stakeholders, they are no longer good enough. With fake news, alternative facts, and the ability of social media platforms to spread outright lies globally, corporate stakeholders are not only searching for the truth, but demanding it as a requirement for doing business. Expect to see more emphasis placed on external and third-party auditors and reviewers who will be hired to verify the information being shared by companies as both transparent and accurate.

Achieving carbon neutrality. While many companies have made great strides in reducing their carbon emissions and waste, simply reducing the environmental impact of corporate operations is not enough; now, stakeholders are demanding that companies eliminate them all together. More companies are using renewable energy and carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality (which should be independently verified), and the idea of “zero waste” is becoming commonplace in the workplace. Expect to see more companies moving quickly to carbon neutrality and making greater strides toward zero waste in the coming year.

Standing with employees. Increasingly, employees are exercising their voices demanding that their corporate leaders get involved with their communities and causes in ways unheard of just a few years ago. While the upcoming presidential election in the United States and the exit of Britain from the European Union are sure to exacerbate cultural and political differences among stakeholders, including employees, expect to see more corporate leaders prodded into participating in local and global public policy debates and being held accountable for their actions (or inaction) by their employees.

Pursuing purpose over passion. While passion remains critical for leadership of companies and civic organizations alike, there’s a growing recognition that passions are sometimes fleeting, but purpose can be enduring. The movement toward creating corporate purpose as a way of inspiring employees and engaging customers is a recognition that purpose can be a long-lasting, and geographically agnostic, guiding force behind a company’s operations and its social responsibility. Expect to see almost universal embracing of purpose as a non-negotiable part of any company’s public portfolio.

Looking for the next big thing. The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility has been around since the 1970s, and corporate philanthropy has existed for well over a hundred years. The idea of sustainability is decades old, and the commitment by companies and employees to “give back” by volunteering is equally long-lived. What’s the next big thing? Many investors and insiders tout the idea of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting and “Shared Value,” but these concepts may seem too academic to the average consumer or employee. Expect to see new ways of promoting and describing the idea of companies acting responsibly in the new year.

Portions of this blog post first appeared on Forbes.

  • About the Author:Timothy J. McClimon

    Timothy J. McClimon

    Timothy J. McClimon is President of the American Express Foundation and Senior Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, American Express Company.  In this role, he directs all of the A…

    Full Bio | More from Timothy J. McClimon


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