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Consumers Demand Sustainability Results, Survey Says

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, consumers want more than aspirational mission statements, according to research by Cone Communications.

According to 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker, 84 percent of Americans hold companies accountable for producing and communicating the results of CSR commitments by going beyond the mission to robustly communicate progress against well-defined purpose. Some 40 percent go as far as to say that they will not purchase a company’s products or services if CSR results are not communicated.

Companies that proactively share the details and results of their CSR efforts, rather than just their aspirations, will be rewarded with increased consumer trust and purchasing, the report says. Some 86 percent of consumers are more likely to trust a company that reports its CSR results, and 82 percent say they are more likely to purchase a product that clearly demonstrates the results of the company’s CSR initiatives than one that does not, according to the report.

Despite this strong belief in CSR commitments and results, 63 percent of consumers admit to not knowing where to find such information and 55 percent say that they don’t understand the impact they are having when buying a product from a company that says it is socially responsible.

But consumers do not expect a business to abandon profits in pursuit of CSR. Some 84 percent recognize that for a company to make societal impact, it must also realize a business return, such as increased revenue or reduced costs.

In response to the importance of CSR reporting in communications, Cone has launched Corporate Social Return, an approach to CSR-focused public relations that centers on the conviction that CSR must deliver measurable business, brand and social impacts that yield benefits for vested stakeholders.

According to a report out earlier this month, fewer companies will measure return on investment of their CSR and sustainability efforts this year than last. This year, 38 percent said their company measures ROI, a one percentage point dip from 2011.

Human rights, workers’ rights and climate change are the top three sustainability priorities for companies in the coming year, according to the BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business poll of 500 business leaders.

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