Corporate social responsibility (CSR) used to have a bad rap, often relegated to philanthropic largesse and entirely disconnected from the core business. Those days are over. Today, B2B buyers are making purchase decisions based on CSR criteria, the best talent gravitates to companies that live their values, and investors and other stakeholders are rewarding companies that lead on key issues like environmental sustainability. That means CSR must become a strategic function with implications for the entire organization.

The old ways of thinking about CSR are dangerous, because B2B brands, just like B2C brands, have become glass houses subject to intense public scrutiny. All brands are now in the social eye, which impacts reputation and the ability to operate effectively. There is no place to hide. Broad-scale social concerns on a range of issues, such as sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), are increasingly urgent, and businesses have to act. In fact, B2B companies are often seen as having an outsized impact on many of these social questions — they are perceived as both the cause and the cure.

Make CSR A Strategic Must-Have

Fifty-five percent of B2B companies that responded to Forrester’s 2022 B2B Brand And Communications Survey plan to increase investments in CSR. These investments are fueled by a recognition that CSR supports long-term financial performance (reported by 63% of respondents) and is aligned to employee priorities (52%). While forward-thinking companies are investing in CSR, many are stuck in old ways of thinking. CSR programs are often siloed and lack executive remit. B2B companies regularly fail to see the connections between CSR and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, and the two functions frequently are split. ESG initiatives are often narrowly investor-centric, without any broader context, while a volatile debate about the efficacy of current ESG practices complicates matters.

In our new report, we explore this imperative in CSR and provide a defined process for making CSR a strategic, board-level priority. At its core, CSR is a contract that businesses make with stakeholders and is an intrinsic component of the company’s overall value proposition. It addresses the dual materiality on how issues like DEI pose a risk to business and how, in turn, the business itself can impact these issues positively or negatively. Ultimately, CSR is a broad corporate mandate that must be ingrained in ways of working and how you behave as a business.