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Taking a Stand: 2019 Corporate Sustainability Predictions

By Dave Armon

It has been quite a year for those of us immersed in the corporate responsibility world, especially when we've witnessed how many companies have stepped up their activism during 2018. We’ve seen CEOs increasingly speak out on diversity and inclusion, companies oppose the separation of families at the U.S. border with Mexico and watched corporate leaders double down on volatile issues like gun violence.

Following a most eventful 2018, can this coming year even measure up? Recently in New York City, 3BL Media and TriplePundit brought together various business leaders and asked them what corporate responsibility trends we could expect to see during 2019. We took the liberty of selecting a few quotes that stand out – and for those we're quoting, we're adding their Twitter handles as we look forward to them sharing more of their wisdom and perspective in the coming year.

To sum up in a few words, expect to see, or perhaps we should say hear, a lot more speaking out in 2019:

"I think we’re going to see companies get a lot more active in social, political and environmental issues.  In the past, companies have been hesitant to speak out, but they are really being pushed by their employees to take a stand.” - Danielle Holly, CEO of the skills-based volunteering nonprofit Common Impact.

"For 2019, I really see pre-competitive collaboration as being a big trend.  Companies collaborating has been happening, but I think that increasingly we are going to see competitors get together to tackle big issues,” - Robbie Lock, Executive Director of the 3BL Association.

"2019 is going to be spent, I think, with the specter of 2020, with the addition of 2030 goals and with the realization we have to speed up, and hurry up move forward faster, make bigger changes and really, really drive impact,” - Susan Arnot Heaney, Director of Marketing and Collaborating Company Engagement at Rainforest Alliance.

We wanted to gain more insight beyond that evening in New York, so we also reached out to other thought leaders across the U.S. to gaze into their crystal ball for 2019. Here is what they anticipate for corporate sustainability in the next 12 months:

“The hall pass has expired on Silicon Valley’s M.O. of building market scale and dealing with its social impact later. New guard rails are inevitable . . . In addition, increasing employee activism — aided by social networks like coworker.org or apps like Blind — will spotlight corporate actions, policies or strategies that do not align with stated values.” – Barie Carmichael, Senior Counselor at APCO Worldwide and co-author with James Rubin of Reset: Business and Society in the New Social Landscape.

“Employee engagement: has been a buzzword for a while now, but this year we saw what it truly means for employees to be engaged -- from the ground up. So much of the bold activism we're witnessing from CEOs on issues like gun control and immigration has been a direct result of pressure from employees and in many cases, employee working groups (ERGs). As part of this trend, we'll see more companies actively encourage employees to engage in tough or polarizing conversations at work. Companies will embolden employees to be vocal about the issues they care about.” - Susan McPherson, Founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies.

“I'm going to be keeping an eye out for how businesses continue to step up to prove their reason to be - whether that's by addressing climate change in a tangible way, activating their brands for purposeful actions or truly connecting their business models with how they behave and who they associate with (through their advertising dollars, sponsorships, etc.). I also think we're going to continue seeing momentum around supply chain innovations - from digital solutions to cohesive partnerships on issues such as living wages and human rights.” – Aman Singh, Editor-in-Chief and Head of Content Strategy, Futerra.

“Accelerated digitization, as in the Internet of Things (IoT), along with the ensuing data of the supply chain and marketplace, will continue to advance radical transparency to uncover new risks, but also key opportunities. In addition, boards of directors across a range of sectors are learning quickly that they need to develop stronger competencies and strategies to manage ESG risks lurking in their business model/practice.” – Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Campbell’s Soup Company.

Be sure to subscribe to our weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter, where our Editor-in-Chief John Howell will update you on the latest trends in corporate activism.

Image credit: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

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Dave Armon is the Chief Executive Officer of 3BL Media, which produces the 3BL Forum and ranks the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. A former journalist, Dave spent 20 years in management at PR Newswire, where he was president and COO.  

Read more stories by Dave Armon