Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to the concept that a business is not only responsible for creating value for shareholders, but should also seek to benefit the broader community in which it exists.

While this concept has been around for decades, its importance has grown in recent years as consumers have become more conscious of issues such as climate change, income inequality, health care disparities, unfair labor practices, and gender inequity. As is often the case, this increased consumer awareness has led to businesses embracing CSR practices: An estimated 90 percent of companies on the S&P 500 index published a CSR report in 2019, compared to just 20 percent in 2011.

To help put this into perspective, below is a look at 15 statistics related to customer, employee, and executive beliefs that make the business case for corporate social responsibility.

CSR Statistics About Customer and Investor Beliefs

1. Seventy percent of Americans believe it’s either “somewhat” or “very important” for companies to make the world a better place. (Source)

This is compared to just 37 percent who believe it’s most important for a company to make money for shareholders. While businesses can’t completely disregard the need to earn a profit, it’s clear that the general public expects them to balance this need against other priorities, such as CSR initiatives.

2. Seventy-seven percent of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place, while 73 percent of investors state that efforts to improve the environment and society contribute to their investment decisions. (Source)

These figures indicate a business can realize significant rewards by prioritizing CSR initiatives and working them into its strategic plans, attracting both customers and investors.

3. Forty-one percent of millennial investors put a significant amount of effort into understanding a company’s CSR practices, compared to just 27 percent of Gen X and 16 percent of baby boomers. (Source)

It should come as no surprise that younger investors tend to put more effort into understanding a company’s CSR efforts than older generations. This figure is likely to increase as future generations seek to understand how their investment dollars impact society and the world at large, for better or worse.

4. Twenty-five percent of consumers and 22 percent of investors cite a “zero tolerance” policy toward companies that embrace questionable practices on the ethical front. (Source)

The takeaway here is clear: A business that knowingly engages in deceitful or otherwise socially or environmentally harmful behavior risks losing a significant percentage of potential customers.

5. A majority of American consumers (55 percent) believe it’s important for companies to take a stand on key social, environmental, and political issues. (Source)

Taking a stand, however, doesn’t come without risk. Up to 54 percent of consumers say they’ve stopped buying from a company due to its public position on an issue, while 48 percent of investors have decided not to invest in a company for that same reason. Thirty-eight percent of investors have gone a step further and sold shares.

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CSR Statistics About Employee Beliefs

1. Ninety-three percent of employees believe companies must lead with purpose. (Source)

A further 88 percent believe it’s no longer acceptable for companies to make money at the expense of society at large. These numbers make it clear that organizations must dedicate efforts not only to developing CSR initiatives, but to ensuring employees are aware of them.

2. Ninety-five percent of employees believe businesses should benefit all stakeholders—not just shareholders— including employees, customers, suppliers, and communities they operate within. (Source)

When most businesses split value, it’s with the traditional value stick in mind, which divides value among three primary parties: customers, the firm, and suppliers. What’s not often obvious is the value claimed by the firm’s employees and society at large. Organizations would be well served to speak to these figures.

3. Nearly 70 percent of employees say they wouldn’t work for a company without a strong purpose. (Source)

A further 60 percent would take a pay cut to work at a purpose-driven company. In both cases, it’s clear employers must consider CSR to attract and retain skilled employees.

4. Ninety-two percent of employees who work at a company with a strong sense of purpose say they would be more likely to recommend their employer to those in their network who are looking for a job. (Source)

Referrals are an important source of new employees for many businesses and organizations. With this in mind, those who wish to encourage referrals must ensure they foster an environment that current employees would be proud to introduce to others.

5. Ninety percent of employees who work at companies with a strong sense of purpose say they’re more inspired, motivated, and loyal. (Source)

When employees feel their work is having a real and lasting impact on something they care deeply about, they're more engaged and loyal to the company. This fact translates directly to the organization’s bottom line. Even a small investment in CSR initiatives can result in significant improvements in employee engagement and, therefore, how profitable the company can be.

CSR Statistics About Executive Beliefs

1. Nearly 90 percent of executives believe a strong sense of collective purpose within their organization drives employee satisfaction. (Source)

A further 84 percent believe it affects the organization’s ability to transform, and 80 percent believe it can increase customer loyalty. As you can deduce from earlier statistics, they’re correct: Both customers and employees value purpose and specifically seek businesses that aim to make a difference.

2. Only 46 percent of executives say their organizations currently operate with a strong sense of purpose. (Source)

A further 44 percent indicate their organization doesn’t currently have a strong sense of purpose but is in the process of developing one. This shows that the vast majority of executives understand the importance of developing CSR initiatives for their organizations.

3. Fifty-eight percent of organizations that currently have a strong and clear sense of purpose experienced 10 percent or more growth during the last three years. (Source)

Only 51 percent of organizations that are in the process of developing their sense of purpose and 42 percent of those that don’t have (and are not developing) a sense of purpose have seen similar gains. This indicates a correlation between purpose and profit.

4. Creating value for the customer, positively impacting society, and inspiring innovation and positive change are the three top reasons impacting an organization’s purpose. (Source)

Other reasons include: providing employees with a sense of meaning and fulfillment, generating financial return for shareholders, contributing to a sustainable world, reducing negative impacts on the environment, and galvanizing employees to persevere through challenges.

5. Nearly 99 percent of CSR professionals indicate COVID-19 has had an impact on their CSR efforts and initiatives. (Source)

For example, most CSR professionals expect their CSR budgets to remain flat during the next fiscal year, after already remaining flat during 2020. Additionally, 68 percent indicate they’ve reduced or ended a partnership with nonprofits to allocate budget to new initiatives that have become more visible during the pandemic, such as food insecurity, health care disparities, education, workforce development, community revitalization, mental health, and disaster relief.

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How to Prioritize Corporate Social Responsibility

As the statistics above demonstrate, corporate social responsibility is an important concept for businesses to consider. Stakeholders of all stripes increasingly consider an organization’s CSR initiatives before making important decisions: customers before making a purchase, investors before allocating funding, employers before choosing an organization to work for, and executives before finalizing their corporate strategy.

If you’re interested in gaining a firm understanding of corporate social responsibility that you can leverage in your personal and professional life, there are several ways you can do so; one of the most effective is by completing corporate social responsibility training.

Are you interested in making an impact on your community and the planet? Explore our three-week online course Sustainable Business Strategy and other Business in Society courses to learn how to be a purpose-driven professional.

Tim Stobierski

About the Author

Tim Stobierski is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Harvard Business School Online.