By Kristina Roberts
For at least the past century, the purpose of business has remained more or less the same. This purpose has been to deliver goods and services and to create wealth and economic prosperity.Consumer expectations were that businesses simply deliver on this purpose, and expectations did not extend much further than that. However, in the past decade something has shifted. As people begin to comprehend the immensity of the challenges that are facing our society, consumer expectations for the role of business have changed dramatically. The original infographic below displays the findings of several large–scale global surveys, conducted by various organizations, that have confirmed that consumers expect businesses to prioritize social and environmental progress:Contrary to some opinions, business playing a more meaningful role in society isn't in conflict with short-term profit-making, but is a means for building more successful and sustainable businesses in the long-term. A business that simply makes money, taking little else into consideration, is no longer a respectable institution. Consumers expect businesses to be socially and environmentally responsible. This may not be news to you, but expectations may be higher than you even realize. According to research from GlobeScan, there is a significant and increasing gap between Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expectations and CSR industry performance.People expect business to make a positive contribution to society, and not just in a marketing-motivated or superficial way. Thirty-one percent of consumers believe that a business has to fundamentally change the way it operates if it is truly committed to positively impacting the larger community and environment it is a part of. Furthermore, people are looking for results. A vague promise about ‘doing good’ won’t cut it. Consumers are starting to hold businesses accountable for delivering and communicating the results of their CSR commitments. Why are consumers suddenly so concerned? And how are they actually able to hold large corporations accountable to their promises?Consumer EmpowermentThanks to the increasing affordability and availability of communications technologies and the rise of social media, power and influence have become democratized. People are able to self-organize and rally behind companies that align with their values, and activities they do and do not support. Consider this chart from the Edelmen Goodpurpose Survey on changes in consumer behaviour relating to companies and causes:Demand for Transparency Since the media environment has changed, people have become accustomed to accessible and detailed information. The demand for transparency and information is higher than ever. With this abundance of information, consumers are able to make better-informed decisions, and compare and contrast different companies. Consumers and the media are more ready to challenge or pass judgement on companies that they do not perceive to be doing this right thing.Corporate DistrustCorporations are no longer the authorities on trust that they once were. The 2008 economic crisis and various corporate scandals have caused public trust to diminish. This loss of faith in business institutions, combined with the democratization of influence have allowed new sources of trust to emerge. A recent study from BBMG has confirmed that the opinions of peers, labels, networks and social media are now the most trustworthy sources of information.Government DownloadAnother factor contributing to the changing role of business in society is the shift in government responsibility. Because many forms of social support have been de-regulated, the government has offloaded some of its responsibility for community issues on to other sectors. While many citizens may not agree with these governmental decisions; they bring forward an important question…Who is Responsible for Community?The truth is, community is a shared responsibility. We are all a part of community, and we all have an interest in seeing it thrive. The challenges we face require a different way of thinking and working together. All three sectors in our society (business, nonprofit, and government) along with the general public, must come together and share the responsibility of addressing the social and environmental issues we all face. These new approaches will be demanding and complex, but those who commit to this work will inevitably see the greatest value and make the greatest impact.