As we take stock on the past 365 days, there is no doubt that 2016 has presented a turbulent time for business and society. From the ballooning refugee crisis to unexpected political outcomes from all corners of the globe, the world is a different place than we saw as we heralded in the New Year just 12 months ago.
Yet with this instability has come progress and awakening. Many organizations took the opportunity to redefine what "responsibility" looks like – beyond just material issues or products and services – to what a company's larger role in society could be. We saw moments in time grow into movements, employees roll up their sleeves on sustainability, and technology play a leading role in communicating to consumers. As the year draws to a close, we evaluated a years'-worth of corporate social responsibility (CSR) trends to bring you the top 10 trends of 2016:
- Companies Lead With Values: As issues reached a boiling point, we saw some companies take a stand on items that likely won't be found in a CSR report. Rather, these companies – and a handful of outspoken CEOs – used their bargaining power to sway decision makers and put a stake in the ground on important topics.
Just two weeks after announcing expansion plans in North Carolina, PayPal released a statement saying it would halt plans due to legislation the company felt invalidated protections of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens. Meanwhile, Salesforce's Marc Benioff has been a vocal proponent of equal pay – even going so far as to ask other CEOs into making similar commitments, and Ben & Jerry's* founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, were arrested with hundreds of other activists as part of the Democracy Awakening's protest on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
- Reporting Gets Entertaining: This year marked a new phase in the life of CSR reports as companies transitioned from the 200-page PDF to heightened focus on storytelling, digital and interactive experiences.
Heineken took the reins this year by enlisting Dutch rapper and spoken word artist, Kevin "Blaxtar" de Randamie, to deliver its sustainability report as a dynamic two-minute video entitled, "Let's Be Frank." The video was accompanied by an online game where users could play through the brewer's CSR commitments. Patagonia's report eschewed the text-heavy standard for a high definition image-laden report focusing on action and the outdoors.
- Employees Drive Sustainability: While companies have long understood the value employees play through contributing to community efforts, 2016 was the year companies put employees to work in driving positive impact on sustainability issues.
This was the case for Virgin Atlantic. The airline saved around 21,000 tons of carbon and $44 million just by educating pilots on what behaviors could save fuel and then asking this group to participate in a fuel-saving challenge. Starbucks' landmark FoodShare program launched in March was the result of employees urging the company to reconsider the pounds of unsold perishable food thrown away every day.
- VR Transforms CSR Experiences: Virtual reality (VR) was all the rage this year and savvy marketers realized its amazing application to help consumers become fully immersed in important issues – and ultimately change behavior.
TOMS allowed consumers to take "A Walk in Their Shoes" by using VR to share the moment a consumer met the beneficiary of his one-for-one purchase. Diageo employed VR to put consumers in the passenger seat alongside a drunk driver in a shockingly real video to emphasize the power of choice while the National Autistic Society showed what it's like to be a child with autism in a crowded mall to bring empathy for people living with the disorder.
- CSR Data Goes Big: As the world becomes increasingly connected, CSR innovators are seeing the vast and exciting opportunity in big data. Now, companies are leveraging massive amounts of data to have an even clearer picture of complex social and environmental issues – and create a more transparent supply chain.
In addition to Google's $1 million commitment to help fight Zika virus, the tech goliath is also embedding a team of Google engineers and data scientists to help UNICEF organize the data they collect to make the massive amount of information easier to work with. Chicken of the Sea is harnessing data to bring more transparency to consumers' dinner plates. The seafood brand launched a digital traceability initiative that allows consumers to enter a code to learn a wealth of information about their can including the region the fish was caught, the method used – even the vessel that caught the fish, with start and end dates of the trip.