Top 12 Predictions for Corporate Responsibility in 2012

By Susan McPherson

We’re now at that that time of the year when we all stare into our crystal balls to determine what the future holds.  Since my crystal ball is as good as the next, I wanted to share some of my thoughts for the coming months.  Here are my top 12 predictions for the next year:

  1. Vibrant exchanges around climate change and environmental sustainability will ensue leading up to the Rio Summit in June and throughout the 2012 elections campaigns.
  2. There will be a continued growth in employee-engagement programs.  If the economy continues to falter, we will see corporations supporting NGOs and nonprofits via employee volunteer programs rather than writing checks.  Organizations such as VolunteerMatch and Executives Without Borders will benefit.
  3. Continued globalization. No longer a practice owned by Western countries, Chinese corporations as well as growing companies from “2nd world” nations will make stronger efforts towards sustainability.
  4. Increase in the number of cause marketing programs.  These continue to appeal to corporations as they are a way to add legitimacy to a program that can also drive revenues while helping the world (in some capacity). If done authentically, such programs can enhance a firm’s reputation in the eyes of consumers.
  5. The continued demise of checkbook philanthropy. This will happen in parallel with the the increases in cause marketing programs.
  6. A skeptical consumer.  As social media platforms continue to grow beyond their pre-teen years (Twitter was only being used by 12-14 percent of the population in early 2011), and more organizations and individuals sign up, consumers will demand more transparency from corporations AND nonprofits.  My firm, Fenton, along with GlobeScan conducted a survey this year, and one of the most telling factors was the need for nonprofits and NGOs to engage very directly and intimately with their donors and stakeholders.
  7. The rise of the CSO. As the Weinreb Group’s survey proved in September, there are more and more CSO positions being created and filled. This can only be good as it completely legitimizes the practice of corporate responsibility and ensures C-level interaction and engagement.
  8. CR and sustainability consulting will continue to grow, but several firms will merge.  The market can only withstand so many.
  9. Sustainability reporting will level out, but integrated reporting will increase.
  10. As governments around the world continue to lose control (and economic resources), companies and NGOs will do their best to fill in the missing gaps.
  11. There will be more mainstream coverage of the CR market.  Traditionally covered by select publications and blogs such as this one, the general media will follow the terrific path set by the Guardian and create their own sustainability or CR hubs.
  12. Lastly, two of the hot issues next year will continue to be the conflict minerals challenge and CR engagement at the corporate board-level and the hot-button word of choice for CR departments will be INNOVATION.
What are your predictions?  Share here and provide your thoughts.
Susan McPherson
Senior Vice President/Director of Global Marketing
3p Contributor

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19 responses

  1. Do you think the “conflict mineral challenge” is a driver of the competitive upsurge in deep sea / submarine exploration + mapping among billionaires and explorers alike?

  2. A year ago, I would have been dubious that there would be more mainstream coverage of CR. But like you, now I’m more optimistic that a shift is taking place.

  3. Thank you for an interesting list of predictions! I was looking for a gender or diversity aspect in your list, as I find this important. Women’s increased representation among college graduates, social media actors and among employees and leaders, especially in BRIC and other major and emerging economies, will have a great impact also on CR. Some of the points you list may actually be an outcome of a better gender balance in work life, and new gender- and diversity related changes are coming fast!

    1. Excellent points and thank you for taking the time to provide your insight. I do see that gender will play a key role in 2012 and believe it will finally be addressed at the board-level. We are woefully behind European countries when it comes to gender equality on corporate boards.


  4. Robert here from VolunteerMatch. Great predictions, Susan, and of course we can’t agree with you more about the rise of employee volunteer engagement.

    Our VolunteerMatch Solutions group works with close to 150 of the best known companies and brands. We see time and again how for many employees, getting involved in an employee volunteer program is one of the few ways in which they can actually touch, feel, and take part in their company’s CSR activities.

    And while we’ve always felt that the costs of employee engagement in volunteering aren’t negligible (in fact, the best programs employ talented administrators to sustain engagement), the hard costs tend to be much less than other aspects of social responsibility for companies — and often more impactful.

    Putting on my own prognosticator’s cap, the big trend ahead that I foresee is the rise of employee engagement services and tools for the smaller enterprise. While we have a services package for SMB that provides real value, it’s still out of reach for the businesses out there that are small, successful, and still interested in corporate community involvement.

    Thanks again, and keep up the great work!

    – Robert Rosenthal, VolunteerMatch

  5. Have to admit that my inclination is towards the cynical with CSR, but you sparked my hope that there might eventually be viable business models based on bedrock principles of sustainability. But these will have to be fundamentally different enterprises than those that currently dominate.

  6. In terms of predicting trends, I would like to add two more hot-button words of choice for CR departments – beyond innovation: ‘leadership for sustainability’ (this will be demonstrated by those companies that really make a difference) as well as ‘understanding CR as a change initiative’ – because without that, people in CR departments won’t be able to be effective influencers and change agents.

  7. Good piece Susan, I’d add one more area that I think mirrors two of yours. I think NGOs will close or merge, especially those that don’t match their stakeholders’ requirements for transparency and those that can’t or won’t become more entrepreneurial. The third sector will be under great pressure as corporate and government support or contracting out declines. One challenge for NGOs not specifically established to support volunteering is convincing themselves and their donors that investment is needed to move into this field.

  8. Great predictions Susan!
    I would add that the growing exposure of companies through social media will force them to be more responsive and open, especially in their way of communicating with their stakeholders. This might be the end of sustainability reporting as we know it.

  9. Susan, with so many of my academic colleagues insisting on researching the past, it is refreshing to see you creating a vision of the future. Respect.

    At this point, I can only respond to your predictions in general terms. But, my responce is “WOW”. In the words of Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself”.

    I can only hope that employee engagement programs (Prediction 2) will continue grow. I’m counting on it.

    I also think that the private sector must identify “education” as a CSR agenda item (Prediction 4), and that consumers will recognize those companies and corporations who take a leadership role in this area.

    Finally, INNOVATION will not merely be a “hot button”, (Predictions 12) but it will be an imparative if we are to tackle and solve some of the social, economic, and political issues that we face.

    I love what you’re doing! You are an inspiration to me and others. I have learned so much from your “Top 12…”. When the time is right, I will make some predictions of my own.

    The private sector will be a key, along with the educational sector, and the public sector. We all have a role to play.

    Stay tuned.

  10. These predictions could be bolder. My sense is that 2012ncould be a CSR tipping point: from notions of responsibility & philanthropy to CSRnas business model. Companies focused on innovating to solve ‘wicked’ social problems.

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