Why CEOs Need to Become Activists for Corporate Social Responsibility
In 2018 and 2019, we saw a rise of CEOs taking a stance on social and environmental issues that were not necessarily related to their business, but more so to the greater good of society and the world. The World Economic Forum calls this the ‘New Age of CEO activism.’ With recent political and social upheaval provoking frustration and outrage, business leaders like Tim Cook of Apple, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce – among many others - have been inspired to passionately advocate for a range of causes.
In my experience of working in private and public sectors with high-profile leaders, I’ve come to the conclusion that CEO activism is the single biggest factor in deciding how businesses address sustainability.
Because of their public standing and power, CEOs are well positioned to start conversations that can have a real impact on the public’s opinion, other leaders, the government and lawmakers to save the environment, and here is why:
Consumers highly value CEOs
As more and more leaders opt to take an influential stance on social and environmental issues, the more likely the rest of the world will be inspired to take action. Research shows that 47% of Millennials (ages 18-36) believe that CEOs have a responsibly to speak up about issues that are important to society. Consumer’s minds are being shaped primarily by tech companies who are investing in renewable energies such as Tesla, Google, Amazon and General Electric are among the top brands related to sustainable practices, inspiring them to do their part for the environment to – every little thing counts.
Silence is conspicuous
The more CEOs that speak up on environmental and social issues, the more other leaders will also be expected to do so. The traditional CEO role has changed - Brain Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, believes that “Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right.” The world has taken notice to this and has given CEO activism a lot of media attention recently, with public relation companies building entire campaigns and practices around it. In the age of social media, through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, leaders are expected to have a voice - being silent can actually be more consequential.
Not only is it crucial that we all do our part to save the planet, but there are also other benefits from using your influential voice to save the environment – you will raise your profile, increase company brand awareness and your bottom line. A global study reports that a majority of all generations are now belief driven buyers, and a whopping 69% of Millennials will either buy or boycott products based on important societal issues. Another survey found that over half of Millennials are more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks about issues that are important to them.
So, as a leader, what will you take a stance on? What will you educate your consumers and communities on? I hope it’s the environment, as we have the power to (quite literally) change the world for the better.