‘Conscious capitalism’ at the NRF: the evolution of CSR?

Jan 17, 2017

Yesterday at the NRF’s BIG Show in the US, Sir Richard Branson and NRF Chairman Kip Tindell discussed the future of of CSR. GDR Senior Consultant Sophie Corcut listened in…

In sunny New York, the world’s biggest retail organisations are gathered to meet, greet and be inspired by leaders and innovators in the field. This once-a-year hot date is not just a chance to chow down on the questions, challenges and dilemmas being grappled with by the industry, but is an chance to pause and reflect on what retail has achieved for the wider world.  At the opening ceremony, the American National Retail Foundation’s leadership team announced the launch of ‘Rise Up’, their new initiative to nurture and develop young talent in retail. As NRF Chairman Kip Tindell put it yesterday, retail can “make the world a better place”.

In conversation with Sir Richard Branson before an audience of thousands, Tindell stated that he firmly believes in “conscious capitalism”. Branson agreed; in the end “it will be businesses, not governments or NGOs, that will solve the world’s problems”. In a consumer landscape where millennials and Gen Z demand not only transparency, but fundamentally ethical behaviours and activity at the heart of business, one does have to consider Branson’s statement with some weight.

So what is the future of corporate social responsibility? If brands are going to ‘solve the world’s problems’, we argue it requires a fundamental shift – from CSR being marketing and PR driven, to becoming absolutely core to how business operates. In 2016, Retail Consultancy Fitch stated that Gen Z “dreams of a world in which good works are not the preserve of volunteers but an intrinsic part of society, especially in the corporate world”. In a retail landscape where savvy consumers are more persuaded by acts, not ads, GDR’s view is that CSR will gradually shift away from being communications-driven to becoming absolutely fundamental to business operations.

And we are seeing the change happen already. GDR’s most recent trend ‘Cause and Effect’ examines the myriad ways companies are baking social and ethical responsibility into their business models. Take Saltwater Brewery, based here in the US. They are taking on the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans by making their 6 pack ring holders out of a biodegradable holder, that is safe for fish to consume. Backpack company Cotopaxi has baked its values into its business operations by giving all of its factory workers ownership of the final design for each and every bag they produce. Factory workers are able to use their own creative skills to design unique bags – the colour, pattern and finish will be different on each bag, not only giving the customer a truly unique product, but providing physical proof that it was created and conceived by an individual.

As people and planet face snowballing pressures, and as younger generations refuse to make anything but the ethical choice, businesses themselves will have no choice but to prove their social and ethical credentials through acts, not ads.

What do you think? Let me know by emailing sophie@gdruk.com, and join the conversation.



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