Corporate Social Action on the Rise, PRNEWS CSR Finalists Say


Some consumers want companies and brands to take stands on political and societal issues. This is so particularly with millennials and Gen Z-ers. The Case Foundation's Millennial Impact Report found nearly three-quarters of millennials and Gen Z consumers (70 percent and 72 percent, respectively) purchase from companies that support causes aligned with their beliefs.

In addition, the pandemic and economic and social issues it highlighted increased the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), writes Carolyn Berkowitz, president and CEO of the Association of Corporate Citizen Professionals.

It's in this spirit that PRNEWS, which will honor communication's role in CSR during its CSR Awards later this month, asked several finalists about recent CSR trends.

Responses were edited for length and clarity.

PRNEWS: How did the pandemic and 2020's social and economic reckonings influence CSR?

Katie Evans (external affairs manager, Mars Pet Nutrition): Many non-profits found creative ways to keep getting help from their community virtually. This has opened...the door for a lot of people to get involved who might not have been able to in the past. It's ignited a make an impact.

Our teams were excited to volunteer virtually with local youth programs. There again, some team members who may not have had the ability to spend a day in-person volunteering in the past loved getting involved through online sessions.

Jessica Abensour (partner & SVP, VOX Global): Early in the pandemic, there was fear COVID-19 would de-prioritize key global CSR issues, such as climate change. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. Instead, companies are maintaining ESG targets or even stepping up to set more aspirational goals.

Second, social unrest prioritized DEI programs and activities. This tipped the scales between the importance of the E (environment) vs. the S (social) in ESG strategy more toward the S.

Gina Judge (senior director, communications, PepsiCo): [The pandemic and 2020's events] resulted in higher expectations and more transparency. The Edelman Trust Barometer says consumers have even higher expectations for brands and companies to solve societal problems and be a positive force for shaping culture.

On top of that, when companies make purpose-driven commitments, the public is holding them accountable and expecting more transparency.

PRNEWS: Have the pandemic and the events of 2020 changed the way your organization approaches CSR? What lessons were learned? 

Angelique Lewis (director, CSR, and VP, Astellas Global Health Foundation, ASTELLAS US LLC): Volunteerism always was core to our culture...The team worked with non-profit organizations that [we] had a long history of supporting to build a list of nearly 20 virtual and socially distant volunteer opportunities. Within weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, we posted this to the CSR section of our Intranet and communicated it to employees.

AnnMari Shannahan Alfaro (VP, public information, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research): We…established the amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19 so we could apply our 35 years of experience funding infectious disease research toward defeating COVID-19.

The pandemic changed the way we raise funds, too. Until we can have in-person events again, we’ve had to get creative with fundraising.

Abensour: The public health crisis and long-overdue reckonings around racial and social equity forced us, and our clients, to re-prioritize issues and audiences.

Now, [many] organizations look first to employees, with a priority to ensure their health and safety, as well as equity in the workplace.

PRNEWS: How does your organization measure CSR success?

Evans: In everything we do, purpose is at the center. So, our metrics focus on that. For example, we look at the number of pet adoptions we support and the number of meals donated for pets in need.

We also look at where we’ve been able to influence policy, like pet-friendly housing. And, we’re working each year to increase the number of cities engaging with our BETTER CITIES FOR PETS programming, to help as many communities as possible become more pet-friendly.

Lewis: We measure CSR success through employee recruitment, retention and reputation. In fact, anecdotally, many employees have shared that a key factor in choosing to work at Astellas is the commitment to volunteerism and charity.

Judge: We measure community and environmental impact, reputation and employee engagement. By tracking our progress, we can evaluate what’s working and what’s not.

As a result of the efforts our company undertook, we saw positive increases in reputation indicators as well as employee engagement. This helped solidify that we were doing the right thing.

Note: PRNEWS will announce winners of its CSR Awards during an online gala April 27.