What America's new demographics mean for corporate social responsibility

What America's new demographics mean for corporate social responsibility

While the makeup of America has been changing over the last several decades, the presidential election brought the new U.S. demographics to the forefront. As the Republican Party prepares to redefine itself in an increasingly less “old, white male” world, the shift may be pushing another movement further along: corporate social responsibility (CSR).

CSR and corporate sustainability are no longer novel ideas. A 2011 study by MIT showed sustainability is now a permanent part of 70 percent of corporate agendas. The reasons U.S. companies are championing CSR vary from improving the ability to attract investors, to reducing risk, to increased green product demand, to addressing stakeholder concerns -- and a piece of this may be related to these same changing demographics. 

To win the election, Obama attracted minorities, women and voters under age 40, all demographics whose populations are growing. Non-whites made up 28 percent of the electorate this year, up from only 20 percent in 2000, and women voters grew by a percentage point or two since 2008. Obama only won about 39 percent of the white vote and 44 percent of voters over 65, according to Edison Research exit polls, but it didn’t stop him from winning this election.

Hispanics are the largest U.S. minority group, at 17 percent of the population, compared with 12 percent for blacks and 5 percent for Asians. Together, minorities now make up more than 36 percent of the population, and this is an increasing trend.  While 87 percent of voters 65 or older are white, only 58 percent of voters 30 or under are white. For the first time in U.S. history, minority babies outnumbered white newborns in 2011.

You might be wondering why these demographics are important to CSR. Several studies have shown that the growing demographics (minorities, women, and young people) care more about the environmental and social benefits of the products they are buying and the companies they are working for.

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Take a look at purchasing power. Earth911 recently published an article on Why Women are Better for the Planet, citing research finding that women recycle more, care more about living eco-friendly lifestyles, and make more eco-purchases. Data from the Yankelovich Monitor Multicultural Study 2010 showed that Hispanic and African-American consumers rate the importance of a company's presence in the community, through corporate social responsibility, as more significant in their buying decisions than do non-Hispanic whites. The study found roughly one-third of Hispanic and African-American consumers almost always choose brands because they come from companies that support causes they believe in, compared to just one in five non-Hispanic whites.

Moving on from the purchasing world, these new demographics may also be changing internal corporate decisions around CSR/sustainability. Companies may need a CSR/sustainability program to attract talent.

According to a MonsterTRAK poll on green employment, 92 percent of young professionals would be more inclined to work for an environmentally friendly company. Companies with a significant number of women also seem to be better practitioners of CSR and sustainability. Having more female leaders “is associated with higher levels of corporate social responsibility, including philanthropy, and likely leads to higher quality CSR initiatives,” Serena Fong, director of government affairs at Catalyst, told attendees of the Catalyst Awards Conference in March of 2012. To back up that claim, she points to research conducted jointly by her company and Harvard Business School suggesting gender-inclusive leadership and CSR are linked (Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s A Matter of Sustainability).

CSR and sustainability programs in general are on the rise in American companies, and companies no longer are able to use these programs to differentiate themselves. Companies like Patagonia, Nike, Unilever, and Novo Nordisk have redefined success and sustainability and push every business out there to follow suit.

The revolution has occurred and the research suggests companies now must have a CSR/sustainability program to simply keep a seat at the table. For those 30 percent of companies that haven’t put CSR on the agenda: Beware. In addition to pressure from global leaders, as the face of America changes, CSR/sustainability programs may prove themselves to be even more essential.

In this new America, CSR programs will attract customers, bring in top talent, and allow companies to drive innovation.

Illustration of multiracial crowd provided by Torian via  Shutterstock