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What’s The Future Of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Just a few short decades ago a term like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) would have seemed like an oxymoron(and to some I’m sure it still does). However, modern executives are aware of the need for a comprehensive CSR strategy. CSR is no longer reserved to publicity stunts, but instead are a key component of many brand’s image and overall strategy.

When it comes to the future of corporate social responsibility, many of us feared we may be taking a few steps back under our new president. However, most entrepreneurs and executives predict that just won’t be the case. We’re at a point now where the focus is shifting from CSR to CSI or corporate social impact. The question has changed from ‘what can I change in my business?’ to ‘what can I change in my community?’ 

For more on that and what else we CSR will look like in the years to come, we asked a group of industry experts…


What’s The Future Of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Here’s what they had to say…

Amy Seif Hattan, VP of Corporate Sustainability at Thornton Tomasetti

Amy Seif Hattan

“If you are working in the field of corporate social responsibility, the old joke is that you are trying to work yourself out of a job, because CSR should be woven into every way that companies do business. 

However, until we get to this shining vision, the next 10-15 years of CSR will likely make the annual CSR report – now the cornerstone of many CSR efforts – a thing of the past. Companies are already turning their attention away from looking at CSR as mainly a public relations opportunity, and thinking about how CSR can contribute to transformative innovations for not just the company but for the sector.

At Thornton Tomasetti, we are exploring how a better understanding of embodied carbon – the hidden carbon embodied in the lifecycle of building materials, as opposed to operational energy from the building’s use – can change how buildings are designed in the future as buildings become more high performing in regards to operational energy and net-zero energy buildings become all embodied carbon buildings.

If we really want to solve the problem of climate change, then we need to invent new opportunities for reducing emissions. CSR is becoming a route through which businesses can help solve pressing societal problems, and we are re-imagining business as mission-driven.”



Rachel Sowards, Executive Director for Paladino and Company

rachel sowards

“Technological advances will enable real time CSR reporting, which will lead to widespread adoption across industries. So every company, private or public, big or small, local, national, or global, will be expected to report.

People make buying decisions in a matter of moments and on their phones, so accessing the equity of the supply chain or the energy impact of a brand’s manufacturing facilities will be the norm. Because real time information will be available to consumers and investors, progressive companies will thrive and late adopters will struggle.

Further, industries will adapt to measure their data based on their customers’ values. Combined transparency, data, and social connectivity means that supply chain management, resource advocacy, social justice, and wage disparity will be understood by consumers, and scrutinized.

My advice: Get organized on reporting now. Build knowledge about your clients’ and investors’ values, and be ready for real-time reporting that fits your brand.”


Sarah Cone, Managing Partner at Social Impact Capital

sarah cone

“CSR won’t exist in the future: rather, companies will look internally at their own business, supply chains, and corporate governance to figure out ways to actually run their business in a more ethical and sustainable manner.”



Ben Bisbee, Founder & Principal of Rhinocorn Consulting

“I think the future of corporate social responsibility (CSR) will be less about corporations looking to “find” or “plug” into social good efforts and more about an increased invitation to join strategic efforts. CSR has been generically seen as a two-way road: a concept that both corporations and nonprofits alike engage within and benefit from.

But that’s not true. Yet.

While elements of CSR today is a concept that is owned and executed by the private sector with the sourcing and support of nonprofits, it’s still often separate from the daily core work of these nonprofits.

In the future, I think more nonprofits are going to see themselves as farmers and not fast food restaurants, presenting the core leadership of social responsibility to corporations strategically. In this way, CSR’s functionality will reverse, with the process of solicitation on the nonprofits, focused on creating true corporate collaborations for their own needs.”



Paula Caligiuri, Director of the Cultural Agility Leadership Lab (CALL) International Volunteerism Program

Paula Caligiuri

“Corporate social responsibility of the future will serve multiple purposes beyond positive social impact. They will look for “win-win-wins”.

Examples of win-win-wins in CSR are international corporate volunteerism programs (ICV). During these ICV programs, firm’s skilled associates to go “on loan” as pro bono advisors to non-governmental organizations (NGO) in developing countries.

The participating employees provide short-term, project-based technical expertise for projects identified by the NGO. The projects have defined goals and deliverables for NGO capacity-building (not staffing or direct community service).

My research found that when these programs were designed well, they concurrently, develop employees’ cultural agility, benefit underserved communities, and increase knowledge transfer back to the sponsoring company.”



Tyler Butler, Founder & Principal of 11Eleven Consulting

tyler butler 11 eleven

“By the year 2032 corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its principles will dominate company culture. This specialty field will go from being a nice to have to being a need to have for companies. We can expect to see local market managers as a more plentiful role in this space, instead of one just reserved for the largest of companies.

Programs will be better integrated and work seamlessly with diversity and inclusion efforts to create a more refined mission with which greater results and participation from employees will be possible. 

Innovative cause marketing campaigns will no longer be something we see occasionally, these will move to a necessary and integral component for every company’s CSR program.

Companies who today shy away from the positive sentiment boost these programs provide will be better educated and understand more fully that reaping the rewards of their good deeds is nothing to hide or underscore, rather it will be become the forefront of how many companies present themselves to stakeholders, potential customers and talent.”



Robyn Tingley, Founder of Glasssky

“10 – 15 years from now, Millennials will make up a whopping 75% of the workforce. This will change the face of CSR dramatically.

Millennials have an inherent desire to make a positive difference in the world. And they are highly skeptical of major companies and brands. Traditional advertising doesn’t result in wallet share the way it used to. Millennials want to know the companies they are buying from are legitimately trying to leave the planet in a better place than they found it. In fact, 9 out of 10 Millennials will change brands to buy from a company associated with a cause.

So fast forward to a time when they dominate the workplace, consumer spending, political offices, courthouses, classrooms and regulatory bodies….

  • We’ll see more reporting. Open and transparent practices will be the norm. They will expect this, but they will also drive it (they are the sharing and social generation after all).
  • More shared value strategies, social investment. Millennials will take a pay cut to work at a company that has a cause. So will they give up more profits to genuinely impact key stakeholders long-term vs just paying lip service through short-term small charitable donations? Yep.
  • A Boost in Fully Dedicated Resources. Millennials know no boundaries. Voicing opinions, naming and shaming, and challenging authority and old ways of thinking is how they breathe. Human rights, labour standards, environmental offenses…these will all get exposed forcing companies on their heels. We’ll see a resurgence in PR people, fully decided CSR staff (the big players don’t even do this well), and legal experts. What is today a quarter of someone’s job will be a team of 5 in 10 years.”

About the author

Nick Hastreiter

I write about the future of business. I approach this by interviewing founders, CEO's, and other game changers to share their vision for the future of their industry.

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  • Excellent roundup! Unearthing “hidden carbon” and linking it to real-time reporting – all funneling into more informed buyers and investors. As companies participate in #weareallin, I’ll be looking to their CSR reports to validate their commitments.