The Most Important CSR Trend for 2016:

A Move Toward Systems-Level Thinking

The year 2015 was the warmest year on record, and people, governments and even businesses are paying the price. And it’s a big price that will eventually halt and downturn all economies

In 1965, scientist James Lovelock shared that, by the year 2000, “[Climate change will be] worsening then to such an extent that it will seriously affect their business.” Unfortunately, he’s right.

Beyond the cost to business caused by climate change, there are social issues affecting businesses, too. The fact that billions still live in poverty means that the true market potential of most businesses is not anywhere close to being fully realized. Beyond sales, businesses also struggle from a lack of access to talent, a result of faltering education systems around the world.

Meanwhile, some businesses are beginning to see market rewards for being more socially and environmentally responsible. In fact, there are at least 7 research-backed reasons as to why companies will continue to become more sustainable in 2016 (and beyond). As The Guardian has reported, “the benefits far outweigh the costs.”

However, despite the urgency that many talk about the need for change, corporations have been very tactical in their approaches to corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR). A standard company might launch a giving campaign during the holidays, pilot a “day of volunteering” program during a slower time of year that does more harm than good, and/or initiate a business-greening initiative in one of its units. While all of these might be a step in the right direction, none are especially sustainable or impactful. But if we want to right our wrongs and save our global economy, and more importantly, our planet, it’s time to take much bigger steps.

Pressure on business to become more responsible is increasing. Not only from consumers and employees, but now from governments and global institutions like Climate Action and the United Nations. The United Nations has called for businesses to partner in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, and businesses are also foundational partners in the new COP21 Climate Agreement.

Independent nonprofits and monitoring institutions – like SustainAlytics measurement of Environmental, Social and Governance factors – are also adding pressure as their reports are being utilized in rankings like the Harvard Business Review’s report on top CEOs.

Leading CSR professionals, like Kathy Pickus at Abbott and Tim Mohin at AMD, are also paving the way. These professionals have transformed their CSR positions to not just lead some “give back” projects, but to actually work across their entire company to help it do less harm and more good by integrating sustainability efforts and reporting into all layers of their business and supply chain. At the 2015 Corporate Citizenship Conference, Kathy Pickus shared that “Corporate citizenship is not about giving more money and more product, it is about transforming businesses to operate responsibly.”

As AMD demonstrated this past year with its 20th Anniversary of Sustainability Report, improved measurement across its entire business has enabled it to put change into action. In doing so, AMD has earned a place on the list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

How to integrate corporate responsibility throughout your entire business

  1. Figure out where your business is;
  2. Have leadership set a goal;
  3. Measure where you are, and where you are going;
  4. Pilot more initiatives aligned with core business outcomes;
  5. Engage external stakeholders;
  6. Making the most of 2016;

So as you step in 2016, think bigger, move faster, and partner with as many people as possible – the world is counting on you.