Originally posted on Forbes.com CommunityVoice™
Written by: Amanda Ponzar
With recent data breaches, global riots, government shutdowns, rising nationalism, international tensions, crippling inequality, fear of artificial intelligence replacing jobs — the list goes on — even the most positive person can feel discouraged, unable to see a way forward.
The 2019 trends in corporate social responsibility (CSR), however, can give us hope for a brighter future ahead. If your brand isn’t yet involved, these trends may encourage you to get started.
Taking A Stand
I predict companies will continue to leverage their reach and speak out on issues with a more transparent and authentic voice, engaging consumers and employees in the conversation and pushing government and business to make changes.
We’ve seen brands taking stands prominently in support of social movements, like Nike’s “Believe in something” ad campaign, eBay’s support for #TimesUp, Lyft’s offer of free rides to students participating in the March for Our Lives and Ben & Jerry’s Pecan Resist ice cream.
However, it can’t just be a clever ad campaign or public relations stunt which can backfire. Companies need to live, not just laud, these values. One of the best examples is Patagonia’s donation of its entire $10 million tax break to raise awareness for climate change and support the environment. That’s putting your money where your mouth is.
Every company can evaluate its culture and values and determine how best to improve current social issues. Companies have channels — from customer communications to websites and social media — that they can leverage to raise awareness, shift public perception and encourage behavior change.
Expanding Diversity And Inclusion
We’ve been talking about diversity and inclusion for a long time, yet now I’m seeing a shift to a broader definition that welcomes people with disabilities, among others. This issue hits close to home for me, as I have a family member with a disability. It’s encouraging to see companies publicly talk about the innovations created by those who are different, touting the benefits of hiring people with “neurodiversity” as a business decision with measurable value, not just corporate charity.
Microsoft, for example, which has an Autism Hiring Program and created an adaptive video game controller showcased in its 2019 Super Bowl ad, has long recognized not only diverse talent but the nearly $500 billion buying power of people with disabilities.
Multiple CSR events I attended last year featured speakers with disabilities. That is inclusion brought to life. And it’s time for even more brands to invite this community to be part of the conversation and solution, recognizing their contributions in 2019 and beyond.
Making Sustainability Real
Yes, it’s encouraging to see companies linking executive pay to carbon footprint or replenishing the water they use, but where I see real hope and change is when individuals get involved at scale — when sustainability becomes real to the average person.
Sustainability is not just about recycling soda cans. Just in the past few weeks, two CSR leaders I met for coffee brought their own reusable straws. My organization is even giving away metal straws at our next board meeting. Starbucks and other mega brands committing to eliminate single-use straws was a wake-up call, but seeing people in everyday life stop using plastic straws or plasticware demonstrates that each of us has a role to play.
Putting paper in the office recycling bin is no longer enough. Every company can look at practical ways to improve sustainability, from starting a community garden to using energy-efficient light bulbs to removing single-use plastic. Get your employees involved in generating ideas, and use your communications channels to share these ideas with customers and the public.
Taking Personal Responsibility
During the partial government shutdown, everyone from celebrity chefs to business owners to concerned citizens reached out to help, collecting trash at the National Mall, donating food or serving free meals and offering financial assistance to struggling government workers.
The trend here is individuals stepping up and taking action on their own, which explains the recent rise of crowdfunding and microloans. No matter what the issue is, if you see it, there’s probably something you can do about it. It’s what my parents used to call maturity: seeing what needs to be done and doing it without being asked. It’s a return to citizenship, community and personal responsibility.
Companies can empower employees at all levels by providing employee resource groups and time to volunteer, offering opportunities to give, running donation drives and more. Often times, the most successful projects are grassroots, generated by employee interests. All your brand needs to do is allow space for it to happen.
Empowering New Generations
Engaged employees are elusive, and efforts are often focused on millennials and Generation Z. Determining how to engage this new workforce can be a challenge, but one thing they clearly want is a socially responsible organization.
As younger generations ascend to positions of influence, I believe they will champion change. “The 2018 Millennial Survey 2018” (download required) showed two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zers believe companies only care about making money, and yet three-quarters believe companies could solve social problems.
These generations know the truth: Companies have the means to make a big difference. When new power rises to leadership, we will likely see an even greater shift to impact and social change. But there’s no reason to wait. Smart companies are engaging employees now, creating open forums and opportunities for them to share concerns and take action to support issues they care about.
Despite stressful social media or negativity on the nightly news, there are a lot of good people out there who make me optimistic for 2019 and beyond. These CSR trends also remind us, as brand communicators, that we have the power to amplify good causes by leveraging our skills in public relations, social media, storytelling and more. We all can choose to get engaged and help make that brighter future a reality.