Learning from Today’s Corporate Sustainability Leaders: Five Ways to Grow CSR Efforts


In just the past few weeks, in lockstep timing with World Economic Forum, many of the world’s largest brands announced ambitious new ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals. You don’t need the resources of a global Fortune 500 company to showcase that sustainability and CSR (corporate social responsibility) are priorities for your business or organization, but there is a great deal we can learn from these leaders.

Setting ambitious commitments can be a powerful tool for positioning organizations or clients as an industry leader, and consumers expect shared values and priorities when making decisions on what companies and products to support. Where do you start?

1. Measurement Matters

When it comes to setting goals, tracking progress is critical to showcasing commitment, building on accomplishments and establishing credibility. I’ve worked with many company leaders who have implemented impressive sustainability practices in their business, but you wouldn’t know it, because they aren’t properly tracking, reporting or building off progress. You can’t advance your goals or share your story without measuring efforts.

Reducing energy consumption is something a lot of companies commit to and track. PepsiCo recently announced it is moving to 100 percent renewable electricity in the U.S., which is a step toward its already established goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030. For your company, it might start with tracking small commitments, like switching to LED lighting or smart thermostats, or maybe taking it a step further and installing solar technology.

2. Integrate Your Efforts

Tying sustainability and CSR to the core of your business shows that you are authentic and “walk the talk.” Blackrock, the world’s largest investor, shared news that it is committed to combatting climate change by making “sustainability integral to portfolio construction” and will avoid companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.” Microsoft, which announced plans to be carbon negative by 2030, is also investing $1 billion in tools and technology that will undoubtedly help countless others in efforts to reduce carbon output.

Incorporating sustainability at the highest levels – making it a part of the business plan, having the CEO or company leadership completely onboard and engaging employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders – will establish a company as a leader among peers. And, it’s good for business. Today, 85 percent of U.S. investors express interest in sustainable investing strategies and a 2019 CGS survey found that more than two-thirds of respondents consider sustainability when making a purchasing decision.

3. Eliminate Waste

Nestle recently shared its plans to invest up to $2 billion in sustainable packaging, and Taco Bell set an ambitious goal to make all of its consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. There are many ways companies can prioritize creating less waste, such as implementing recycling and composting programs at the office, printing less, setting sustainable printing and quantity requirements for collateral and swag, utilizing packaging that’s been recycled and is recyclable/compostable and committing to more efficient manufacturing practices. There are also certification programs available, such as TRUE zero waste, that enable facilities to pursue and achieve zero waste goals to cut their carbon footprint.

4. Make it Someone’s Job

Accountability is one of the crucial components to achieving sustainability goals, and, when it’s someone’s job, that sends a clear message to stakeholders. Starbucks, already a sustainability leader, just hired its first Chief Sustainability Officer and issued a message from its CEO reinforcing its sustainability commitments. While your organization might not be in a position to hire a full-time staff member, take a look at the existing team and see if there is one person or a team of people who can be responsible for creating and implementing your plan. It’s also important to scale plans accordingly and think about what the role would look like if it could be created in the future. 

5. Share Your Story

When you share your own sustainability story in a meaningful way, you motivate others to do better and raise the collective bar. About 86 percent of all Fortune 500 companies do some type of sustainability reporting, and this can take many shapes and sizes, from a page on a website to a printable PDF report to an infographic. Know your audiences and meet them where they are through social media, media engagement, newsletters, email and more. How and where you share your story is important.

We all have to start somewhere. No matter where you are in your CSR journey, if you are making authentic and meaningful commitments and working toward clear goals, you are moving in the right direction for your brand and your business.

Please reach out to Marisa@inspireprgroup.com to learn more about how Inspire can help you grow your CSR efforts and tell your story.