CSR in a recession, what may be in, what may be out

Conversations with managers at a series of events over the last couple of months reveal some possible trends for next year, maybe.

I say maybe because a conversation over coffee, dinner or a few drinks is not exactly the best trend barometer. But then if you have enough informal chats a few things start to emerge.

So here's what I've been hearing in London, New York, Montreal, Berlin and Prague in the last month or so, mixed with the usual bit of standard prejudice contained in any good blog post:

1) Starting with the obvious: travel budgets for big companies are under pressure. So not so much flying then, and perhaps fewer trips to communities in the developing world with NGOs etc.

2) Corporate sponsorship of pointless "best of lists" will be curtailed. Partly due to cost cutting and partly because companies are increasingly dubious of their veracity and usefulness, having been suckered into sponsoring them in the past.

3) Companies will continue CSR and sustainability reporting. As one head of CSR told me "If we don't do anything else, we have to do the report". Fair enough. But:

4) The quality of "sustainability" reports may not improve much. (Not that they were much use for discovering what a company is like anyway)

5) Companies are cutting the consultancy budget first. Consultants can turn to the UK government, who love them, and now own more companies than they know how to "reform".

6) More wannabe consultants will still emerge as bright or idealistic (or both) young students graduate and want to "be a CSR consultant", but can't find other jobs in the slowdown. Bless.

7) Charities and NGOs will get less money. This is both because foundations who dole out cash will have less of it since stock values are down, and also because companies have no spare money to splash about.

8) There will be fewer "green awards" or "green expos" desperately looking for something environmental to praise that is not waste water treatment.

9) Conferences will be smaller, and possibly more focused, and likely better value for money. Conference organisers, see below for potential new business model.

10) Arup's eco-potemkin village Dongtan will still not get off the drawing board in Shanghai. As our China correspondent put it: "last time I went to Dongtan there was a farmer selling tickets to watch his pigs jump through hoops of fire in a field".

11) Corporate responsibility membership groups will lose a few members, and gain less new ones, as the cash crunch bites. The hugely expensive ones will suffer more, which seems fair.

12) CSR will still be a good idea, mainly because its cheaper than giving non-retrenched staff a pay rise and gets good local PR. And because the hostility felt towards the banks will soon, if it hasn't already, be partly passed on to other large companies, particularly those that dare to make money. Oil firms beware (like you weren't already, or cared much!).

13) Climate change will be interesting. Now that the easy wins are over for many firms in terms of CO2 cuts, what will we see them doing when it comes to cuts that need decent capital investments?

14) Anti-corruption and fraud will be bigger issues. Because of more investigations (yes really, there is a link) and their links to economics, a topic now on everyone's mind now the good times are over.

15) That's enough for now (ed)

Readers are welcome to post comments, mild insults and predictions of their own underneath.

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Wannabe consultant

I read this post with interest, especially as Jeffery points out, the section about 'wannabe CSR consultants'. I'm a graduate and have spend the year since my graduation interning (mostly for free) to build experience in CSR - mainly because there are no entry-level jobs for graduates with an interest in CSR at the moment! It's a shame that university breeds students with a keen interest in better business practice, but that the ability to take that interest further is limited for many by lack of opportunity. However, I am not ready to give up the search quite yet - here's hoping businesses realise the long-term benefits of CSR and don't make hasty cuts.

Point 6: Wannabe consultant in the making

Read your post with loads of interest - especially on the part of wannabe consultant. As a 'wannabe fresh entrant' in CSR work after having spent the last 7 years doing Market research and Business Development, I can feel the crunch effect, especially since how the number of job post has reduced significantly in the span of the last 3 months.

Reality bites but I believe that the strong will survive. So those who are like me - expand your options, be brave and do not give up your passion for CSR. The world is in ever-pressing needs for people like us!