Looking Ahead: Top CSR Trends in 2020

January 10, 2020

The belief that businesses do well by doing good has been around for decades. At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center, we have the honor of recognizing the private sector’s significant contributions to society through our annual Citizens Awards and additional programming year-round. From Fortune 100 companies to family-run businesses, the private sector is actively working to improve communities and the lives of individuals around the world. Yet there is a growing demand for businesses to not only play a larger role in creating positive social impact, but also be more strategic in the way they approach their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.  

As Rohit Bhargava frames it in the chapter titled “Purposeful Profit” in his book, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, “It is no longer enough for brands to focus on business as usual and measure success solely by financial growth. They are more frequently expected to step forward on social issues and stand up for their beliefs or risk losing both customers and employees.”

As we close out one decade and begin another, we asked top global CSR leaders to share their perspective on the major trends to look out for in 2020. Here’s what they had to say:

HUGH WELSH, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL COUNSEL, DSM NORTH AMERICA

2020 will see an acceleration in the evolution of the role of CSR from a compliance or public relations function to one clearly aligned with the organization’s strategy. The 2020 U.S. elections, growing employee and consumer activism, and the rise of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing will continue to challenge the role of business in society. 

The key areas of change I see developing in 2020 as a consequence of these drivers and increased transparency are companies revisiting the nature of fiduciary duty, and whether that runs only to shareholders but instead to all stakeholders including employees, customers, vendors, the community, and society at large. 

Another area of change will focus on whether companies use their considerable clout to not only create competitive advantage but also social good, aligning their CSR and “purpose” initiatives with their government affairs, investor relations, and human resources activities. 2020 promises to be a pivotal year in the role of CSR as the business community will be in the spotlight, and its role in society and the future of capitalism itself will be substantively challenged. The CSR profession will play a critical role in determining whether the organization meets these challenges or fails to adapt to the rapidly evolving world in which they operate.

SYLVIA BARTLEY, SENIOR GLOBAL DIRECTOR, MEDTRONIC FOUNDATION 

Having a CSR strategy in place with definable measurable outcomes is becoming a must-have for corporations.  The data indicates having a CSR strategy and practice is increasingly becoming a deciding factor for the next generation, especially the Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha populations. These individuals expect companies to commit to solving social issues. 

Impact philanthropy is the emerging trend for the future. Companies must demonstrate impact of their philanthropic work, mindfully selecting strategic NGO partners who can help deliver on clear outcomes established upfront. 

BALAJI GANAPATHY, GLOBAL HEAD, CSR AND CHIEF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OFFICER FOR TATA CONSULTANCY SERVICES

Society will expect CSR to move from doing good to nation building. Countries and citizens will call upon private enterprises to play a bigger role in addressing the core socioeconomic issues that affect them, such as growing wealth inequity and creating jobs for the digital economy. 

Companies will reimagine employee volunteer programs to be strategic, curated, personalized, and purpose-aligned: employees expecting—if not demanding—that their employers help fulfill their broader purpose. This starts with meaningful work projects that articulates the broader consumer or societal impact, and provides employees with a platform for curated, personalized engagement. Pure grants and time-based projects won't suffice and employees will demand being matched against community volunteer projects that align to their own purpose, making the best use of their specific skills and core competencies.

CSR leaders will integrate technology and human-centered design to leapfrog social innovation. There will be a proliferation of innovations at the intersection of technology and every industry's core purpose—creating more value for their consumers and stakeholders. In a similar vein, CSR leaders of private enterprises and foundations will lead partnered efforts with the social sector, leveraging technology to leapfrog innovation by reimagining human-centered solutions to solve societal problems.

DANIELLA FOSTER, VP AND GLOBAL HEAD OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND SUSTAINABILITY, CONSUMER HEALTH, BAYER 

Executive Pay Gets Purposeful. With just ten years left to reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, companies will be called upon to up their game in 2020 and tie sustainability impact to the most sacred line item: executive compensation. Tying compensation to progress made on environmental and social impact metrics will put sustainability at the heart of business strategy and operations. It will also require tangible, auditable progress for bold goals, helping to drive transparency around how deeply commitments are embedded into a business. Expect to see the most ambitious companies couple sustainability commitments with executive compensation (starting with the C-suite). 

Redefining Capitalism. The 2020s will bring a decade of transition as consumers, governments, and citizens require companies to revamp traditional business models and account for natural capital and social capital hand-in-hand with financial performance. As the notion of capitalism continues to evolve, companies that proactively adapt by placing big bets on business models that are designed with sustainability and inclusive growth in mind will thrive. 

As these insights suggest, the need for corporate purpose is becoming more important than ever. We look forward to working with the private sector in 2020 to continue this important conversation and find innovative ways to create greater impact. Learn more about CCC’s upcoming programming here.

Marc DeCourcey is the Senior Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and leads its Corporate Citizenship Center.