Corporate Citizenship Having Hard Time Catching On

In a world of instantaneous communication and corporate transparency, more companies are citing a need to be good corporate citizens--but there is still a disconnect between what executives are saying and what they're doing, according to a new survey from the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.

According to the online survey of 751 executives (more than half of whom were CEOs), 62% said corporate citizenship is part of their business strategy to a large or great extent. However, only 39% said they incorporate citizenship into their business planning process, and only 25% have a dedicated team or staff member to work on citizenship issues.

"The reality is, they haven't really built [corporate citizenship] into their business plans," Bradley Googins, executive director of the center, tells Marketing Daily. "We need to start understanding why this gap exists and to help business leaders make the translation from rhetoric to action."

Googins notes that corporate citizenship as a business necessity and a marketable policy is still in its "earliest stages," but is being driven by instantaneous global communication, increased corporate transparency and consumers employing social marketing in their decision-making processes (like buying fair-trade products). Company executives said the biggest barrier to being a good corporate citizen is a lack of money (31%), time and people (27% each).



"In a transparent world, companies are only beginning to understand what it's going to take to be good corporate citizens," Googins says. "But they're realizing it does have value for them." (A 2007 Reputation Institute survey notes that corporate citizenship has become the chief driver of a company's reputation, beating out products, innovation, financial performance, workplace practices and governance.)

The survey also notes a disconnect between what the public expects by way of its corporations and what the executives expect. According to the survey (when compared with data collected by a GlobeScan survey from 2007), while 79% of the public expects companies to make products in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, only 55% of the executives agree. Similarly, 61% of the public believes it's a corporation's responsibility to improve education and skills in the communities in which they operate; only 41% of executives agree.

The survey also asked the executives to weigh in on who they felt was doing a good job of being a corporate citizen. Microsoft topped the list; it was cited by 27% of the respondents, although Googins notes much of this could be attributed to reflected glow from the unaffiliated Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

While GE, IBM, Apple and Wal-Mart received mentions (9%, 8%, 5% and 5%, respectively), 21% of the respondents did not identify a single company as standing out. "[Corporate citizenship] is so young in its development that [few] companies are standing out," Googins says. "The growth of it is remarkable."

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