CSR 2010: 2010 was CSR's "Coming Out" Party; What will 2011 bring?

Published: Jan 10, 2011


As we've seen by many recent year-end posts, 2010 really culminated in a "coming out" party for corporate social responsibility professionals. The industry has indeed gone mainstream, and the sustainability function of businesses is no longer stored in a back hallway, only coming out once per year to express green initiatives and explain the company's carbon footprint to investors.

Sustainability and corporate responsibility have moved to the front page and marketing dollars are now covering more initiatives than the obligatory cause marketing programs. During 2010, we saw major programs unveiled by Marks & Spencer, Target, GE, Timberland, Wal-Mart and P&G. These programs were created with the company's DNA at their centers. Further, a global study by Echo Research, titled, "A World in Trust," that analyzed CSR trends and interviewed business leaders concluded that organizations must make sustainability a top business imperative.

Cross-sector progress on Sustainability

The Global Reporting Index (GRI) and Center for Sustainability & Excellence (CSE) each established beachheads in the U.S. and a study by PWC reported that sustainability reporting is on the rise.

Annual CSR reports increasingly used multimedia to showcase initiatives and advancements. We also saw the CSR community participate and share opinions in the debates over the BP Oil Spill and Toyota's mismanagement of their braking systems.

Also of note, we witnessed more and more corporations developing NGO enmanagemenetttgagement strategies that established sustainable philanthropic programs that go far beyond traditional major gift donations.

CSR Conferences Pushed the Envelope

A new CSR event popped up almost monthly which led to further discussion and discourse. The stellar and more traditional events such as BSR, NetImpact and Sustainable Brands were filled to the brim with attendees. New events such as the JustMeans Social Media Technology and Change Conference, PR Newswire's CSR Virtual Conference and the Economist brought new and innovative ideas to the conversation.

The Big CSR Debate Takes on Responsible Capitalism

My firm, Fenton Communications, produced a sold-out webcast on the topic of the state of CSR in business today, featuring the now famous Professor Karnani, along with key pontificators, Chrystia Freeland (ThomsonReuters), Matt Bishop (The Economist), Georg Kell (UN Global Compact), Christine Arena, Bob Corcoran (GE), Dave Stangis (Campbell Soup Co.) and Aron Cramer (BSR).

The best of best in CSR and sustainability

The Twitter Explosion

The Twitter #CSR feed exploded and grew more every day, while top-quality bloggers had their say. Consultants who were once relatively unknown became "must follows," including Elaine Cohen (@elainecohen), Fabian Pattberg (@fabianpattberg), Chris Jarvis (@realizedworth), Julie Urlaub (@TaigaCompany), David Connor (@davidcoethica), Aman Singh (@VaultCSR), Bill Baue (@bbaue), John Friedman (@johnfriedman), Annaliza Humlen (@ADhumlen), Ann Charles (@annbcharles), Olivia Khalili (@OKL), Heather Clancy, (@heathclancy), James Epstein-Reeves (jepsteinreeves), Dave Stangis (@dstangis), Celesa Hovath (celesahorvath), Lis Duarte (@lisduarte), Alice Korngold (@alicekorngold), Dave Meyer (@drmeyer1), and Juan Villamayor (@JuanVillamayor) and so many more.

Interest in CSR and Sustainability News Spiked

News organizations @CSRwire, @3BLMedia, @JustMeans, @PRNewswire, @Marketwire and @Businesswire distributed increasingly more content featuring sustainability and green business releases, images and video. Mainstream publications such Fast Company and The Guardian routinely featured exposes on the how businesses are dealing with sustainability reporting, employee engagement and stakeholder relations. Viewership of online media such as GreenBiz, Triple Pundit, Environmental Leader and Huffington Post spiked. Public relations and marketing agencies added CR practices and invested in departments that had already been created.

The State of CSR: Predictions for 2011

What's on tap for CSR in 2011? Here at Fenton, we predict:

continued growth of cause-marketing programs
    thanks to the improvement in tracking the ROI of such campaigns.Companies that would have previously been reticent to take on such programs now are more confident in doing so.
      2. With the continued
explosion of social media and networking
    , we will see increased collaboration between sustainability professionals as well as the growth in the trade associations and events/conferences that serve these professionals.
CSR reporting
    by companies of all sizes will continue to grow and personally, I believe that GRI will lead. Measurement will continue to be key and senior management will expect data from any programs established.
      4. We'll also see more
mainstream publications dedicating resources to covering CSR
    in addition to the various print and online journals that already exist.
Green washing
    will continue to be on the mind of consumers and with the expected update to the FTC's rules; we'll certainly witness companies being more careful when launching marketing campaigns. These will further lead to an overall theme that we're hoping to see: A theme that embraces the truth and the practice of "good business."

Bottom line: If companies are indeed authentic, truthful, transparent and mindful, consumers, shareholders and employees will benefit. A win-win-win!

--By Susan McPherson

Susan McPherson is a senior vice president at Fenton, the nation's leading public interest communications firm, where she focuses on corporate responsibility programs for the firm's clientele. She has more than 20 years experience in marketing, strategic business development, public relations and product development. Prior to joining Fenton, McPherson was vice president, CSR services at PR Newswire, a leading provider of electronic news distribution, media targeting, and measurement and multimedia services. She serves on the board of Bpeace, an organization dedicated to assisting women in regions of conflict and post-conflict start businesses. She also is a member of Echoing Green's Social Investment Council, the New York Leadership team for 85Broads and an advisor to the OpEd Project.

Related Reading:

Echo Research Study (PDF)


The Complete Series: CSR 2010

CSR 2010, Part XI: The Year Before the Year That HR Woke Up to CSR

CSR 2010, Part X: How to Pursue a Responsible Career in 2011

CSR 2010, Part IX: 3 Ways Corporate India Can Embrace CSR in 2011

CSR 2010, Part VIII: A CEO's Reflections: "It Was The Best of Times; It Was The Worst of Times..."

CSR 2010, Part VII: Holding Up the Mirror to Sustainability in 2010

CSR 2010, Part VI: 5 Reasons Why Sustainability Grew Up in 2010

CSR 2010, Part V: New Times; Old Challenges

CSR 2010, Part IV: Corporate Social Responsibility Shifts From Cubicle to Boardroom

CSR 2010, Part III: Don't Let Your Job Search Define You

CSR 2010, Part II: Emerging Career Choices in Supply Chain & Sustainability

CSR 2010, Part I: The Sudden Explosion of Commentary on Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR 2010: Lasting Impressions From a Volatile Year