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New Report Advises Business to Be a Force for Good in a Rocky Business Climate

Amy Brown headshotWords by Amy Brown
New Activism
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In a challenging business climate where companies feel more pressure than ever to take stands on social and environmental issues, a new trends report offers tips on how companies can stay on the right side of their stakeholders even when times are tough.

The Force for Good Forecast 2019 report is the latest trends forecast from Future 500, a nonprofit consultancy focused on stakeholder engagement.

“America’s deepening political divide​ ​is driving a few of these shifts, but many reflect subtle changes in philanthropy and demographics that we’ve tracked for years,” Future 500 Chief Operating Officer Erik Wohlgemuth said in a press statement.

“Some trends are bubbling up from emerging economies, while others flag changing tactics in the environmental-activist community,” he added.

The pain points companies are experiencing these days come from all sides:

The authors of the report highlight what they consider the 10 most important emerging social, environmental and corporate advocacy trends, while advising companies how they can avoid or minimize conflict with investors, employees and critics. Among those trends:

The year we break our promises: Many companies “will fall far short” of the 2020 goals that hundreds of them set on challenges including workplace diversity and inclusion, human rights, water, waste, packaging, carbon, and deforestation. A company that tries and fails to meet the targets but keeps trying will be in a better place than one that allows things to slide, the report predicts.

Change agents tear down the walls: Activists of all kinds have found common ground, and they’re using it build movements, as the proponents of the New Green Deal have demonstrated. “If nothing else, the non-binding resolution is a powerful affirmation of a big-tent movement,” concluded the report’s authors.

So long to the quid pro quo:  As Amazon’s short-lived proposal to set up headquarters in New York City showed, governments are scrutinizing the unintended impacts of big corporate project proposals on housing affordability, community infrastructure and their local communities’ overall quality of life.

#MeToo is just getting started: The movement could well transcend gender and elevate expectations for workplace equality and corporate culture across the board. Google employees’ campaign to push the company on sexual harassment claims is a case in point.

The C-suite is stepping up: Consumers increasingly expect companies to take public stands on controversial issues, and they are expecting the same of CEOs. Recent examples include when Nike anointed Colin Kaepernick as its public face or when Gillette challenged its customers to “man up.” Even BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has seemed to endorse the rise of corporative activism in his annual open letter to CEOs, as 3p has continued to cover.

Other trends highlighted in the report underscore that companies need to look beyond a “gut check” to having “context-based” climate action frameworks like the Science-Based Targets Initiative.

The report also warned that the climate justice community behind the New Green Deal can’t afford to be ignored in the nascent but growing support for “a revenue-neutral, federal carbon tax,” as recently proposed by the Climate Leadership Council.   

What’s more, “plastics will get personal in 2019,” the report, along with ongoing reporting from 3p, predicts. Pressure will increasingly come from consumers, as in the Break Free From Plastic Coalition, which named and shamed the top 10 companies it says contributes to single-use plastic debris in the oceans.

Right behind them is the newly formed Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance, a coalition of 25 institutional investors with a collective $1 trillion of assets under management which has challenged leading brands like PepsiCo, P&G, Nestlé and Unilever to take action on plastics to the next level.

The Force for Good Forecast ends on a positive note, advising companies that there is still time to flip the narrative on those 2020 deadlines. “Through thoughtful engagement, companies can position themselves for leadership on the most pressing social and environmental issues of our time,” the report concludes.

Image credit: Bruce Emmerling/Pixabay

Amy Brown headshotAmy Brown

Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.

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