Businesses Confirm Value of Corporate Citizenship, Sustainability

Sept. 30, 2009
The results of a 2009 corporate citizenship survey reveal that despite the recession, corporate citizenship practices, including sustainability, are ingrained in increasing numbers of American businesses.

“Weathering the Storm: The State of Corporate Citizenship in the United States 2009” is a joint project of the Boston College Center and the Hitachi Foundation. It is the only research of its kind to provide a comprehensive overview of small, medium and large-sized U.S. businesses.

Many business leaders taking the survey reported that attention to corporate citizenship efforts is more important in a recession. As in the 2007 survey, the most recent data show that attitudes of support for corporate citizenship are strong but there remain some gaps between those beliefs and the practices and investments of some businesses.

“As we’ve been flooded by announcements of business cutbacks and misconduct over these past months, trust in business dropped,” said Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of the Hitachi Foundation. “Many members of the public have undoubtedly wondered if some corporations should have their citizenship curtailed or revoked. This survey shows that business leaders understand that corporate citizenship entails great responsibilities as well as extensive rights. Most are diligently working and investing toward improving their efforts to more fully meet these responsibilities.”

Chris Pinney, director of research and policy at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, added, “Corporate citizenship is weathering the storm. Despite the economic downturn, the value of corporate citizenship is growing as companies realize greater reputational advantage. The survey also reveals companies are more committed to communicating about their efforts related to social issues and concern for the environment.”

Highlights of the survey, available at http://
rosenbergcommunications.com/projects/thf/socc2009.html
, include:

  • Despite upheaval in the economy, a majority of U.S. companies are not making major changes in their corporate citizenship practices. Of those who made changes, 38 percent reduced philanthropy/giving, 27 percent increased layoffs and 19 percent reduced R&D for sustainable products.
  • Most U.S. senior executives believe business should be more involved than it is today in addressing major public issues including health care, product safety, education and climate change. Surveyed in June, just as the national debate on health care began to intensify, some 65 percent said business should increase its involvement in this issue.
  • Reputation was cited by 70 percent of those taking the survey as a driver for corporate citizenship. Reputation tied for the top spot with “It fits our company traditions and values.”
  • The citizenship response during the recession differed between larger and smaller companies. Large companies significantly increased their investments and involvement in citizenship activities, but were more likely to impose layoffs. Small firms stayed committed to their emphasis on treating employees well by minimizing layoffs. But they significantly decreased attention to other aspects of citizenship.
  • Based on current economic conditions, 15 percent of companies are increasing R&D for new sustainable products, 11 percent are increasing corporate citizenship marketing and communications and 10 percent are increasing local and/or domestic sourcing or manufacturing.
  • Half of the businesses are supporting skill development for employees making less than $40,000 annually and see these efforts as boosting productivity.
  • Only 34 percent of executives who responded to the survey say greater regulatory oversight by the federal government is an important part of solving the current economic crisis and creating a more stable economy.

The survey queried 756 executives, 36 percent of whom were at small businesses (1-99 employees), 24 percent at medium (100-999) businesses and 40 percent at large companies (1,000 + employees).

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