Companies are expected to be active participants—if not driving forces—in solving the most pressing social and environmental issues, according to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study. Corporations that disregard this consumer-demanded role risk more than their reputation, the study suggests: nine in 10 citizens around the world say they would boycott if they learned of irresponsible behavior.

The survey suggests that the benefits of CSR extend far beyond a brand halo. When companies support social or environmental issues, consumer affinity overwhelmingly upsurges:
• 96 percent of global citizens will have a more positive image of that company
• 94 percent will be more likely to trust that company
• 93 percent will be more loyal to the company (i.e., continue buying products or services)

CSR also remains a powerful differentiator at the register, with nearly all consumers indicating a strong inclination to shop for products and services that demonstrate social and/or environmental benefits:
• 91 percent of global consumers are likely to switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality
• 92 percent would buy a product with a social and/or environmental benefit if given the opportunity, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) have done so in the past 12 months

The study was conducted by Cone Communications and Echo Research and reflects the sentiments of more than 10,000 citizens in 10 countries: the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China, India and Japan.

“Consumers across the globe resoundingly affirm CSR as a critical business strategy,” says Dan Soulas, managing director of Echo Research. “It is vital for companies to understand the unique, market-level nuances to effectively participate in the CSR interchange. A one-size-fits-all approach just won’t work.”

Although there is strong support of CSR across all countries studied, there are distinct differences in market-specific consumer attitudes and behaviors.

Citizens in emerging markets such as Brazil, China and India embrace CSR with near-unanimous enthusiasm and are actively sharing, supporting and advocating with companies to address societal challenges. The passion of these emerging markets is in stark contrast to the more reserved and even detached approach to CSR by European populations. In the UK, Germany and France, CSR is oftentimes a product of government regulation.

Emerging market populations are more resolute in their intentions to shop for a cause. Consumers in Brazil (76 percent), China (68 percent) and India (67 percent) are “very likely” to switch brands in favor of those that support cause, versus France (42 percent), Germany (52 percent) and the U.K. (38 percent).

Citizens in emerging markets are more likely to act as megaphones for CSR. Consumers in Brazil (95 percent), China (95 percent) and India (94 percent) say they would tell their friends and family about a company’s CSR efforts, versus France (83 percent), Germany (84 percent) and the U.K. (80 percent).

Consumers in emerging markets are eager to be engaged in companies’ CSR decisions. Consumers in Brazil (94 percent), China (92 percent) and India (94 percent) are likely to voice their opinions about company’s CSR efforts directly to that company, versus France (74 percent), Germany (71 percent) and the U.K. (68 percent)

The survey found that consumers all over the world are also taking to social channels to learn and engage around critical issues without constraint. Nearly two-thirds of global consumers (62 percent) say they use social media to address or engage with companies around CSR. Although the majority shares positive information with their networks, more than a quarter are communicating negative news:
• 34 percent of consumers use social media to share positive information about companies and issues
• 29 percent are using social media to learn more about specific organizations and issues
• 26 percent are using social media to share negative information

Social media is accelerating CSR, especially in highly mobile-savvy and emerging countries China, India and Brazil, where 90 percent, 89 percent and 85 percent of the respective populations report using social channels to engage with companies around their CSR efforts.

And as global citizens become increasingly aware of businesses’ behaviors and CSR initiatives—in part because of social media—they are also becoming more astute about both corporate and consumer impacts. The majority of consumers feel both individuals and corporations are having some degree of positive influence on social and environmental issues; however, just one-quarter feels either is making a significant impact.
• 22 percent of consumers believes companies have made significant positive impact on social and environmental issues
• 27 percent believes consumers themselves can have significant positive impact through their purchases

“Companies have a job to do,” says Alison DaSilva, executive vice president, research and insights, at Cone. “This research reveals an increasingly social, savvy consumer who is looking for proof of progress. Varying degrees of perceived individual and corporate impact underscore the overwhelming need for companies to consistently communicate both corporate and consumer CSR return.”

Global consumers have definitive expectations for the role companies should play in addressing social and environmental issues and are avidly considering CSR in a variety of decisions:
• Just 6 percent of consumers believe the singular purpose of business is to make money for shareholders
• 91 percent believes companies must go beyond the minimum standards required by law to operate responsibly
• 93 percent wants to see more of the products and services they use support CSR
• More than eight-in-10 consider CSR when deciding where to work (81 percent), what to buy or where to shop (87 percent) and which products and services to recommend to others (85 percent)

Economic development (38 percent) is far and away the most pressing issue global citizens want companies to address, increasing 4 percentage points since 2011. The environment (19 percent), human rights (11 percent) and poverty and hunger (11 percent) are the next most important priority issues consumers want companies to tackle.