Company executives believe that corporate responsibility programs can positively impact their business and help achieve strategic goals, according to a survey of more than 500 business executives conducted by accounting firm Grant Thornton.

Only a quarter of survey respondents believed that profits needed to be sacrificed to achieve social responsibility, while three quarters believed corporate responsibility could enhance profitability. As a result, 77 percent said they expected corporate responsibility initiatives to have a major impact on their business strategies over the next several years.

“Corporate responsibility programs have moved out of the realm of public relations to become real tools for improving the bottom line,” says Jim Maurer, national managing partner of the consumer and industrial products practice at Grant Thornton. “Companies are realizing that strong investment in corporate responsibility programs is both a civic obligation and a successful business strategy. Today, corporate responsibility programs are a large part of what customers demand. What’s more, if implemented correctly, they can also serve as a highly effective means of recruiting and retaining talent.”

In fact, despite the fact that the Grant Thornton Business Optimism Index (a semi-annual measure of confidence among U.S. business leaders) reached an all-time low at the beginning of the summer, executives say their companies will increase investment in corporate responsibility: 77 percent anticipate more spending on environmental programs, 50 percent expect greater allocation to social responsibility programs and 45 percent say economic/governance initiatives will see more funding.

Other findings in the survey include:
• 19 percent of the companies surveyed report having a single point person in charge of all their corporate responsibility programs.
• 68 percent say they expect environmental responsibility reporting to be mandatory within the next three to five years, yet 55 percent say they have no plans to do any kind of corporate responsibility reporting.
• The four greatest obstacles to successful execution of corporate responsibility programs are: focus on quarterly earnings or other short-term targets, cost of implementation, measuring and quantifying ROI, and a non-supportive corporate culture.
• The three greatest benefits of enacting corporate responsibility programs are: improves public opinion, improves customer relations and attracts/retains talent.
• 72 percent of respondents believe that government should regulate companies for their effect on the environment and 56 percent said companies should be regulated for their effect on human rights and labor practices.
• 70 percent of respondents foresee increased government regulation for environmental responsibility in five years or less.
• 62 percent believe that pressure to pursue corporate responsibility programs in the future will come chiefly from consumers (45 percent) and investors (21 percent).
• 64 percent believe that the human resources department should take on social programs, 50 percent say operations should be in charge of environmental initiatives and 57 percent say finance should be responsible for economic responsibility programs.