The FINANCIAL -- U.S. consumers rate Wegmans, Publix Super Markets, Amazon.com, Tesla Motors and USAA as the top companies for corporate social responsibility efforts, according to findings from The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ), which has identified movement, trends and insights in a changing corporate reputation landscape for the past 18 years.
Other companies receiving “excellent” corporate social responsibility ratings are Lowe’s, UPS and L.L. Bean.
Monsanto, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs garnered “critical” corporate social responsibility marks in the Harris Poll study, which asked more than 23,000 consumers to rate the 100 most visible companies in the U.S. on social responsibility attributes such as: supports good causes, environmental responsibility and community responsibility.
“Long gone are the days when acting in a socially responsible manner was optional,” said Carol Gstalder, senior vice president, The Harris Poll. “The expectations have evolved from simply acting responsibly, to how companies create social value for their stakeholders.”
Few Companies Excel in Social Responsibility
Only eight of the 100 companies measured achieved “excellent” CSR ratings this year; while this is the most ever in the 18 years Harris Poll has measured CSR as a major dimension of corporate reputation, it falls far from expectations. Last year, four companies received “excellent” social responsibility ratings; in 2010, zero companies. This year marks Publix Super Markets’ third consecutive year with an “excellent” social responsibility rating and it is Wegmans’ second time in the category. USAA has achieved “excellent” ratings three times overall, and it’s the second consecutive year for USAA and Amazon. Companies making their “excellent” social responsibility rating debuts are Tesla, Lowe’s, UPS and L.L. Bean.
“Achieving an excellent social responsibility rating is a high bar,” said Gstalder. “It wasn’t that many years ago when we didn’t see any companies attain this level of recognition for their efforts. So while this progress is a testament to how much more active some companies are in their CSR endeavors, it also demonstrates how much more work is needed.”
Largest Gains, Steepest Declines
Volkswagen Group, plagued by an emissions scandal in 2016, shows signs of recovery, with its social responsibility score improving 7.9 points to a score of 57.7. While still a “poor” social responsibility rating, the company’s score is the largest increase in 2017. Hobby Lobby (+7.3), Capital One Financial Corporation (+7.1), Burger King (+6.7), Toyota Motor Corporation (+6.2), 21st Century Fox (+5.5) and Prudential Financial (+5.3) also made notable social responsibility gains.
Wells Fargo, dealing with reputation fallout from its fake accounts scandal, experienced the largest drop, falling 19 points to a “critical” score while Bank of America (-8.4), Samsung (-6.8), Procter & Gamble Co. (-6.1) and Goldman Sachs (-5.8) also showed marked social responsibility declines.
Most Important CSR Issues
According to Harris Poll’s research, employee treatment (39%), ethics (38%) and respectful treatment of customers (35%) are the most important corporate social responsibility issues, followed by providing affordable and accessible products and services (29%) and safety (28%).
“Consider corporate reputation crises in recent memory - Wells Fargo, Mylan, Samsung, Volkswagen and Takata - and it makes sense that we see employee treatment, ethics, providing affordable products, and safety on top of consumers’ minds,” said Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs at The Harris Poll. “Although the poll was conducted before United Airlines’ passenger issue, respectful treatment of customers was already among the top social responsibility matters vital to consumers. Given the magnitude of attention about United’s scandal, how companies show respect to customers is something consumers will continue to watch very closely.”
Consumers Split on Companies’ Social Responsibility Motivations
Forty-five percent of consumers agree that companies develop corporate social responsibility programs because it is the role they believe they should play as leaders in their communities and is primarily motivated by their responsibility to do what’s right. Conversely, 40 percent of consumers say that when companies develop corporate social responsibility activities, they only do so to bolster their image and are primarily motivated by publicity possibilities; they are not truly focused on the effectiveness of their social responsibility efforts.
“Not only is it important to act in a socially responsible manner, but companies’ actions must be authentic and true to your company’s values,” said Salomon. “Fake it and consumers see right through your ulterior motives, risking negative marks against your corporate reputation.”
Winning Over Millennials
According to Harris Poll’s study, compared to baby boomers, millennials are significantly more likely to proactively try to influence family and friends’ perceptions about a company because of something they learned about how the company conducts itself. Forty-one percent of millennials say they do this, up from 37 percent in 2016, and considerably higher than the 25 percent of baby boomers who say they do this. Also noteworthy: more than half (51%) of millennials say they have participated in a conversation with others (in person or online) about how a company conducts itself.
Similarly, while both millennials (69%) and baby boomers (82%) are concerned about the increasing amount of personal information companies capture about their customers, more millennials (46%) than baby boomers (36%) have decided not to do business with or not purchase products from a company because they were concerned about how their personal information was protected.
“It’s no secret that millennials have tremendous buying power, but with roughly half taking action and proactively working to convince others to do the same – that’s staggering,” said Salomon. “If companies are not taking steps to integrate social responsibility activities with their corporate DNA and effectively communicate to customers about why these programs are important, they are already behind.”
Millennials and Boomers Differ on Support for Companies’ Expansion Efforts
Harris Poll’s research shows that when asked if they would welcome expansion of companies in their communities, millennials are more likely to say they would definitely or probably welcome expansion from technology companies, while baby boomers tend to welcome more established companies. Companies that ranked at the bottom of millennials list for expansion tend to be in the fast food industry or automotive manufacturing.
“Knowing which companies consumers tend to welcome in their backyards is a fantastic depiction of how a company’s CSR efforts translates into real business events,” said Salomon. “Acting responsible and creating social value is not a fad or the movement of the moment. It’s a real opportunity to strengthen your business that will matter when you need it most.”