BSR Conference: Focus on Sustainability Continues Despite Economy

At the opening of this week’s Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in New York, it was made very clear that despite economic stagnation and political changes, CSR remains not only a top priority but that nearly all business leaders plan to increase spending on it. This conclusion is drawn from the annual “State of Sustainable Business Poll” – a collaboration between BSR and Globescan. The poll comes from 377 BSR members who comprise a veritable who’s who of corporate leaders. You can download a PDF fact sheet of the report here.

For those with a short attention span, I’ve reproduced the executive summary highlights below:

BSR members expect climate change, workers’ rights, and human rights to be the focus of their organization’s sustainability efforts over the next year.

  • Climate change remains an important focus of these efforts, with 63 percent of respondents selecting it more than any other issue as either a “significant” or “very significant” priority.
  • Social issues advanced in the rankings this year, with workers’ rights taking the most notable jump, moving to the top of the list of “very significant” priorities (selected by 32 percent) for companies’ CSR/sustainability efforts in the year ahead.
  • Respondents continue to be optimistic that sustainability will be an integral part of global business as well as their organization’s strategy in the near future.
  • 84 percent of respondents are optimistic that global business will embrace CSR/sustainability as part of their core strategy over the next five years.
  • Measuring the return on investment of CSR/sustainability efforts is not yet a widespread practice; only one-third of respondents report doing so within their organizations.

Respondents expect activity in most areas of their organization’s CSR program will remain the same in the coming year, with a few notable areas of increased activity.

  • While CSR/sustainability communications (both internal and external) are predicted to increase over the next year, efforts in most of the other areas (i.e., CEO and board-level engagement, number of staff, demonstrable ROI) are increasingly predicted to stay the same compared to 2009.
  • Nearly all (94 percent) of the respondents said that their companies plan to maintain or increase their budgets for CSR/sustainability programs in the year ahead.
  • Respondents identified the actions that will increase public trust in business, demonstrate leadership, and lead to ongoing success.
  • Respondents think companies can build trust by measuring and demonstrating positive social and environmental impacts and by being increasingly transparent about business practices.
  • The two activities in which respondents believe business is currently showing the most leadership, and that they consider the most significant drivers of overall business success, are innovating for sustainability and demonstrating positive social and environmental impacts.

Respondents continue to see energy efficiency as the primary focus of climate strategy at their organization.

  • Competing priorities, short-term financial pressures, and complexity of implementation are considered to be the most significant barriers to organizations doing more to address climate change, similar to the 2009 survey results.
  • Affordability, convenience, and force of habit are viewed as the most significant barriers to sustainable consumption among consumers.
  • Respondents believe that business can overcome these barriers by demonstrating the economic benefits of sustainable choices and by offering more sustainable products and services.

There’s a lot more on the PDF.

Amid unstable times, such commitment is reassuring. For one thing, it’s a vote of confidence that conscious business is good business. For another, it reinforces the notion that effort and money that has been spent over the years on evolving CSR practices is an investment that is reaping dividends and isn’t going away. Perhaps most importantly, it’s validation that the hard work of many CSR practitioners and activists is going mainstream.

More to come from BSR 2010!

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

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