Why CSR Is the New First Line of Defense Against Environmental Risks

Sutherland Editorial

This year, it’s not economic turmoil putting businesses in the most danger – it’s Mother Nature. The World Economic Forum (WEF) unveiled its 2018 Global Risks Report in Davos, Switzerland this past week and found that out of the five largest business risks, three are related to the environment. Extreme weather events, natural disasters and failure of climate change mitigation and adaption all rank in the top five biggest risks for businesses in 2018 in terms of both their likelihood and potential impact, with extreme weather events being the top risk in terms of likelihood.

As an increasing number of environmental disasters continue to wreak havoc all over the world with startling frequency, there may be a savior emerging on the horizon: it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s…big business? Yep, you read that right – the state of global affairs has gotten so wonky that corporations are rising up as de facto environmental protectors, thanks in large part to corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.

With governments across the world continuing to allow environmental policymaking to be bogged down by divisive politics, corporations are suiting up and stepping in to pick up the slack more than ever. Corporate social responsibility is becoming a key ingredient in how many companies do business today, with many executives realizing the business benefits that can result from CSR besides, you know, protecting our planet. Let’s take a look at why CSR is rapidly becoming the first line of defense against environmental risks.

Customers Care About CSR

Whether it’s through brand loyalty or public sentiment expressed online through social media, customers have made it clear that if you’re a company that stands for something, then you’re worthy of their hard-earned money. Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse study found 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. Customers want to know that the products and services they purchase are eco-friendly or don’t harm the environment in any way. They are more willing to do business with companies that employ sustainable practices or proactively fight for environmental matters.

Companies always have making green on their minds, but they need to prioritize making green choices top of mind as well. If not, they’ll face a wave of backlash. Look no further than Blue Bottle Coffee, the popular niche roaster that encountered tons of criticism when Nestlé purchased a majority stake in the company. Nestlé has faced boycotts for years over its rather environmentally unscrupulous water bottling practices.

In many cases, companies need to be hit with this backlash or actively pursue the incorporation of CSR practices into their everyday business in order to get with the program and do the right thing. “We need to embrace new voices, new perspectives and people who come from other careers and experiences so we get new ideas and help spread the message to ‘the unconverted’ and have sustainable practices included at the C-level and board tables,” Joan Bryna Michelson, Host of Green Connections Radio, said in an interview with Huffington Post. Only then will you truly get customers on your side.

Why CSR Is the New First Line of Defense Against Environmental Risks

Save the Business, Save the World

Leading the charge when it comes to environmental protection isn’t the sole reason companies have become makeshift guardians of the planet. Of course, altruism and wanting to do the right thing play a huge factor, but sustainable practices also make good business sense for most corporations. After all, if the governments of the world could make money off of protecting the environment like many companies have successfully done, CSR would not be one of the primary weapons in the fight against climate change.

For example, Unilever established a sustainable living plan, which has allowed their business and influence to grow on a global scale without that growth contributing to their environmental footprint. In fact, they reported a 39% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 37% reduction in water usage in 2015, all while growing their business. This is a prime example of a company boosting their bottom line and increasing their market value by adopting sustainable business practices in order to positively impact the environment.

Attracting top talent is another business case for CSR. A 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study found that 62% of millennials are willing to take a pay cut if it means working for a socially responsible company. This is nothing to scoff at, particularly now that millennials make up the largest share of the American workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. Having a solid CSR plan in place will only bolster hiring and recruitment efforts, establishing your company as a premier employer of choice.


As evidenced by WEF’s report, the time is now for corporations to act on environmental risks. They have the tools and capability, not to mention an overwhelming business case, to spearhead sustainability and environmental advocacy through CSR. While the brunt of this responsibility falling onto corporations can seem daunting initially, there are some relatively simple steps companies can take to be more sustainable and socially responsible. For help kick starting your CSR initiatives, check out our previous blog on five ways your company can protect the environment while digitally transforming.

Check back in with the Sutherland blog for more around CSR, and give us a follow on social media (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn).