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A Year in CSR: The Top 10 Trends of 2013

By Alison DaSilva

From the massive Bangladesh fire and factory collapse, to the horse meat scandal and ongoing international natural disasters, 2013 was a year of new issues, challenges and opportunities within CSR. Companies and consumers alike were bold, even brazen, in their approaches to accelerating positive change. This year was marked by continued digital innovation, audacious goals, new industry support and unexpected partnerships.

Cone Communications has simplified its years’ worth of CSR tracking to share the top 10 trends of 2013:

  1. The Empowered Purchaser: 2013 brought a slew of new apps focused on empowering consumers to make responsible purchasing decisions. Consumers can now discover how many slaves worked to produce a product via the Slavery Footprint app, or scan a barcode with the Buycott app to quickly tell if a brand’s values align with their own. Shoppers are now increasingly armed with the information and tools to signal their approval of, or opposition to, specific business practices.

  2. Guerilla (Cause) Marketing: Companies used daring, “in-your-face” marketing to bring awareness to important issues. Unilever’s Lifebuoy brand printed a hand-washing message on 2.5 million rotis (bread eaten with the hands) during the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela to inspire behavior change and prevent disease. And a Whole Foods Market in Providence, RI removed 52 percent of all its produce from store shelves to show shoppers the implications if the endangered bee population died off. Although these efforts may seem aggressive, there is no question each company made a lasting impression with its social message.

  3. Supply Chain Gain: Following the Bangladesh factory collapse last April, the supply chains of nearly every manufacturer and retailer were scrutinized. Several companies proactively led new improvements and innovations. Levi’s responded with the Dockers Wellthread clothing line, which will be produced exclusively at its Improving Worker Well-Being pilot sites. H&M recently announced it will become the sole customer of three factories to gain better control of working conditions and also promised “living wages” to all textile workers by 2018.

  4. “Add to Cart” for Good: Online retailers of all shapes and sizes responded with gusto to the growing demand for socially conscious consumption. Though a little late to the cause marketing table, Amazon made a huge splash with its recently launched Amazon Smile website, which activates a 0.5 percent charitable donation every time consumers shop. This year also cemented a rising trend of new online retailers focused on positive impact including Zady, Sevenly and Able Made, among others.

  5. Brick and Mortar Gets a Makeover: Brick and mortar companies addressed sustainability from the ground up with bold environmental goals in 2013. Walgreens and Sainsbury’s have both made major sustainable buildings commitments with net-zero and water neutral stores, respectively. Nike took building innovation to new levels when it announced a new store made entirely of recycled materials. The facility is also made without glue, making it easier to re-recycle at end-of-life.

  6. Haute Cause: Big name luxury and fashion brands came out of the recession with large-scale efforts to give back this year. Diane Von Furstenberg launched the #PinToGiveAndGet campaign to provide eye exams and glasses to youth in need, while Gucci unveiled “Chime for Change,” a campaign focused on women’s and girls’ empowerment, with celebrity partners Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Salma Hayek. Neiman Marcus* made a splash by adding a new component to its famous Christmas Book filled with luxury wonders by donating portions of each fantasy gift to charity as part of its “Heart of Neiman Marcus” campaign.

  7. Gender Job Equality Boost: Although this issue may not be new, the spotlight on women’s job creation continues to gain momentum as companies expand their global footprints. Coca-Cola saw an opportunity to help women entrepreneurs in India and its bottom line by distributing its “eKoCool” solar coolers to aspiring female retailers, while Cisco continues its expansion of university-level technical training for women in the Middle East.

  8. It’s Better Together: Since most social and environmental issues are too complex for one organization to solve alone, companies turned to some unlikely partners for solutions. Nike recently partnered with NASA, the U.S. State Department and USAID to create new, more sustainable textile materials, while competitors Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile joined AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign, banding together to ask drivers to refrain from texting and driving.

  9. Viral Visual Storytelling: Validating the age-old saying that “a picture can tell a thousand words,” many brands produced some unbelievably powerful videos to educate and inspire consumer action around issues. Chipotle’s newest video, “The Scarecrow,” spread an eye-opening, anti-factory farming message to support its “Food with Integrity” campaign. Dove once again set out to change the way women view themselves by sharing fascinating videos of women describing their faces to a criminal artist, and juxtaposed these with drawings based on a stranger’s description.  Both videos went viral with 11 million and 60 million views on YouTube, respectively.

  10. Focus on Food Transparency: Food transparency took center stage in 2013, with issues from horse meat to GMOs making headlines throughout the year. Although most companies are still grappling with how to address the issue among growing activism, several companies are taking the lead by arming consumers with information and openly talking about their production and supply chain practices. Whole Foods and Chipotle both made GMO labeling commitments, and McDonald’s opened its doors in the U.K. with the “What Makes McDonald’s” campaign, inviting “quality scouts” to visit farms throughout McDonald’s supply chain.

As we enter 2014, we’ll look to see these trends grow and new ones to emerge. Companies that anticipate, spot and respond to trends will take the lead, pushing the limits of CSR through breakthrough advancements. Want to know what’s new and trending in CSR and cause marketing all year long? Sign up for the Prove Your Purpose newsletter for the latest innovations and insights.

*Cone project/client

Alison DaSilva is Executive Vice President of Research & Insights, Cone Communications

[Image credit: Cuteandchicvintage, Flickr]

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