The five CSR trends to watch in 2014

New materials, genetically modified organisms, climate change adaptation, employee engagement and social entrepreneurs - these are the five trends most likely to keep sustainability professionals awake at night over the coming 12 months.

The predictions were made on CSRwire by two environmental experts from Cone Communication’s sustainable business industries practice, Liz Gorman and Lesley Lammers.

The search for alternative materials will be the one dominating the radar in 2014, as companies look to invest more heavily in R&D and product development to safeguard against the risk of natural resource depletion.

This issue has already prompted some trailblazing innovation. Nike for instance is collaborating with NASA to locate the most innovative textile fabricators it can find, while telecommunications firm Sprint has turned to biomimicry to rethink its packaging design. It has teamed up with the San Diego Zoo’s centre for bioinspiration to pioneer work in this area.

“Our takeaway is that the future will be bright for material science, and will undoubtedly be a growing specialty among product developers and sustainability professionals,” Gorman and Lammers observed.

Meanwhile a new era in supply chain transparency is starting to emerge, driven by public distrust over issues like the horsemeat scandal. This could see genetically modified organism (GMO) labelling taking centre-stage as consumers press for more disclosure on food labelling.

Last year, in the US, 28 states proposed introducing GMO legislation in a bid to make supply chains more transparent and this could well have implications for Europe and the UK.

As the more progressive food companies look to share more factual information about what’s in their product, this could spark a ripple effect, placing greater pressure on conventional food firms to follow suit.

Employee engagement around CSR is also evolving as companies look to reduce their environmental impacts and retain healthy profit margins. Some have started turning to gamification or micro-volunteerism to make staff engagement easy, fun and personalised.

There is early evidence to suggest that gamification – whereby staff are engaged through the use of game design – will quickly become a popular human resource tool due to its ability to change employee behaviour in a meaningful way.

“Look for a stronger emphasis on this in 2014, and some new breakthrough programmes designed around flexibility, personalisation and choice, that are able to deliver higher levels of employee engagement then we’ve seen in the past,” Gorman and Lammers noted.

The emergence of more circular and sharing economies over the past year has seen a significant rise in the number of social entrepreneurs now occupying the sustainability space and increasingly, corporate executives are interested in tapping into this expertise.

These social enterprises could effectively act as change catalysts for established business models and if this happens, Gorman and Lammers predict that “a whole new paradigm” could break out, resulting in scaled-up product innovation.

Meanwhile the perennial issue of climate change adaptation is unlikely to fade away. Businesses are now taking a hard look at how climate change could impact their operations from the outside in and across entire supply chains.

Issues like water scarcity, extreme storm systems, floods and wildfires have already caused disruption, including the ability to source raw materials reliably and sustainably.

As a result, forward-thinking firms are beginning to incorporate climate resiliency plans into future business strategies. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) are now urging companies to report on their climate change risks and opportunities.

Maxine Perella

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