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IBM CEO Survey: Large Increase of Investment in Corporate Social Responsibility Likely Over Next 3 Years

Buttonhole a CEO

CEOs worldwide plan to increase their investments 25 percent over the next three years to better to better understand and reach socially-minded customers, according to a worldwide survey of CEOs released this month by IBM’s Global Business Service Unit.

On February 22, I wrote about IBM’s case for corporate social responsibility (CSR) based on a survey of 250 CEOs. This second, larger survey of CEOs called the “Global CEO Study” tallied results from 1103 CEOs from 40 countries and 32 industries using face-to-face interviews.

That 25 percent increase in investments represents the largest percentage increase of any trend identified in the study.

Among other pertinent findings:
  • CEOs believe that customer expectations around corporate social responsibility are increasing, and that CSR will play an important role in differentiating enterprises in the future. More than ever a company’s CSR profile matters to customers. And while ‘green’ initiatives are top of mind, the CEOs say customers are increasingly demanding socially-minded products, services, and supply chains.
  • The survey also finds that socially aware customers evaluate an enterprise’s CSR profile before making purchasing decisions.
  • CEO concern about environmental issues has doubled over the past four years globally, but is most pronounced in Asia/Pacific and Europe, followed by the Americas.
  • CEOs also revealed that CSR reputations are also an important tool to attract and retain employees. They are also recognizing that their organizations are being held mutually accountable, along with the public sector, for the socioeconomic well-being of the regions in which they operate.
  • Overall, the CEOs see opportunities in CSR and are using it to their competitive advantage. They indicated that CSR is critical to maintaining current market share.
What does this mean to you, kind reader? It means that if CSR is important to your organization you've got another tool in the box.

It means that if you’re ever in an elevator with a CEO or have the chance to buttonhole one at, say, a charity gala, you’ve got a conversation starter. As in, ‘did you see IBM’s CEO survey?’ They found that worldwide CEOs plan on increasing CSR spending 25 percent over the next years. Does that line up with what your company is doing? Can I come see you sometime about how we might benefit one another?’

I welcome this larger survey of CEOs and am anxious to see the topline report.

While opinion surveys like this one are a coin of the realm, I’ll issue my usual wise-headed caution. Opinion surveys represent a snapshot in time. Or, to mix the metaphor, human opinion is like a river and as Heraclitus (see above) said: “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing upon you.”

How interesting would it be to come back to those same CEOs (or their successors) three years hence and ask them to bring a spreadsheet of their actual spending on CSR?

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