As brands and businesses continue to make CSR-related gaffes, such as Starbucks’ recent racial-profiling crisis, Americans are increasingly seeking information about corporate social and environmental responsibility, particularly from news coverage, according to the ninth annual Sense & Sustainability Study from comms firm G&S Business Communications.
Sharp reversals in key trends indicate a stronger public appetite for knowledge about business responsibility and sustainability, most notably:
- Half of Americans (49 percent) rely on news media, a spike from last year (43 percent in 2017, which marked the five-year low)
- Significantly fewer Americans (25 percent) are staying uninformed (down from 32 percent in 2017)
- There is a five-year peak among those who read sustainability reports (18 percent in 2018, up from earlier highs of 16 percent in both 2017 and 2014)
Consumers are likely taking cues from high-profile crises, examples of which include the 2014 contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the 2016 controversy over EpiPen pricing, as well as the 2018 Starbucks racism incident. Specific perceptions indicate signs of both progress and setbacks:
- When comparing their current views to those from five years ago, 3 in 5 Americans (60 percent) are equally or more confident that employers promoting workplace diversity and inclusion are likely to attract the best talent.
- Only about 1 in 5 people (19 percent) feel certain they can safely drink the water in Flint, Michigan.
- More than three-quarters (77 percent) do not feel sure they can obtain pharmaceutical products at fair prices.
“Amid spasms of upheaval that test public trust in institutions to protect people and the environment, Americans are demanding harder evidence in the form of facts and figures to inform their decisions and actions,” said Ron Loch, G&S managing director and sustainability consulting leader.
“As the U.S. midterm elections approach, it will be critical to weigh public skepticism about government accountability in emergencies,” Loch added. “Scrutiny of corporate culture also has intensified among Americans, as seen in their position favoring business adoption of diversity and inclusive practices. Business communicators who are stewards of corporate reputations and brand value must heed the urgent call from stakeholders for more intelligent, respectful discourse with those who vote with their wallets, ballots, and efforts at work.”
When asked to compare their perceptions from five years ago, Americans reveal weakening confidence in the accountability of government.
- Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) are less confident or outright uncertain about elected officials promising action beyond thoughts and prayers after a public emergency.
- There is a similar mix of eroding confidence and general uncertainty among nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) regarding government protection of the environment and its responsible use of natural resources.
- Most Americans (56 percent) feel a blend of growing skepticism or lack of surety that government will hold accountable businesses that do not protect the privacy of consumer data.
The opinion poll was conducted online by YouGov Plc for G&S in August 2018 among 2,659 U.S. adults.