Fenton Weekly Good Business Update

Year of the CSR “Coming Out” Party

As we’ve seen by many year-end posts, 2010 really culminated in a “coming out” party for corporate social responsibility professionals. The industry has indeed gone mainstream, and the sustainability function of businesses is no longer stored in a back hallway, only coming out once per year to express green initiatives and explain the company’s carbon footprint to investors.

Sustainability and corporate responsibility have now moved to the front page and marketing dollars are now covering more initiatives than the obligatory cause marketing programs. During 2010, we saw major programs unveiled by Marks & Spencer, Target, GE, Timberland, Wal-Mart and P&G.  These programs were created with the company’s DNA at their centers. Echo Research conducted a global study, “A World in Trust,” analyzing CSR trends and interviewing business leaders from around the globe.  An overall conclusion was that organizations must make sustainability a top business imperative.

The Global Reporting Index (GRI) and Centers for Sustainability Excellence (CSE) each established beachheads in the U.S. and according to a study by PWC, sustainability reporting is on the rise.  Annual CSR reports increasingly used multimedia to showcase initiatives and advancements. We also saw the CSR community participate and share opinions in the debates over the BP Oil Spill and Toyota’s mismanagement of their braking systems.

Also of note, we witnessed more and more corporations developing NGO engagement strategies that established sustainable philanthropic programs that go far beyond traditional major gift donations. This GreenBiz.com post from April 2010, provides an excellent summary describing corporate and nonprofit partnerships such as the Rainforest Alliance with multinational corporations.

A new CSR event popped up almost monthly which led to further discussion and discourse. The stellar and more traditional events such as BSR, NetImpact and Sustainable Brands were filled to the brim with attendees. New events such as the  JustMeans Social Media Technology and Change Conference, PR Newswire’s CSR Virtual Conference and the Economist’s Corporate Citizenship Conference brought new and innovative ideas to the conversation.  My firm, Fenton, produced a “sell-out” webcast surrounding the topic, “State of CSR in Business Today,” featuring the now famous, Professor Karnani, along with key pontificators, Chrystia Freeland (ThomsonReuters) , Matt Bishop (The Economist), Georg Kell (UN Global Compact), Christine Arena, Bob Corcoran (GE), Dave Stangis (Campbell Soup Co.) and Aron Cramer (BSR).

The Twitter #CSR feed exploded and grew more every day, while top-quality bloggers had their say. Consultants who were once relatively unknown became “must follows,” including Elaine Cohen, Fabian Pattberg, Chris Jarvis, Julie Urlaub, David Connor, Aman Singh, Bill Baue, John Friedman, Annaliza Humlen, Ann Charles, Olivia Khalili, Heather Clancy, James Epstein-Reeves, Celesa Hovath, Lis Duarte, Alice Korngold, Dave Meyer and so many more.

CSRwire, 3BLMedia, JustMeans, PR Newswire, Marketwire and Businesswire distributed increasingly more content featuring sustainability and green business releases, images and video. Mainstream publications such Fast Company and The Guardian routinely featured exposes on the how businesses are dealing with sustainability reporting, employee engagement and stakeholder relations. Viewership of online media such as GreenBiz, Triple Pundit, Environmental Leader and Huffington Post spiked.  Public relations agencies added CR practices and invested in departments that had already been created.

What’s on tap for next year? I polled many friends in the industry and am eagerly awaiting their responses. One response was quite provocative. I was told it will be the year of truth. I think that will be a good thing.  What do you think?