Oct 27, 2021 - Business

Denver summit tests staying power of corporate social responsibility

Illustration of a briefcase covered in peace, racial justice, pride and earth stickers. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The nation's reckoning with systemic racism a year ago put pressure on companies to incorporate social justice into their corporate values.

What's new: The question is whether the movement can hold its ground. The B:Civic Summit that opens in Denver Wednesday will make the case that a continued emphasis on corporate social responsibility is vital to a company's bottom line.

  • "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done, and we need business to really lead in this effort and not fall by the wayside," says Ramona Houston, a social impact strategist leading a workshop at the conference.

State of play: A look-back at how the private sector responded to last year's social upheaval revealed two broad camps, Houston and other experts said.

  • A number of major companies embedded social justice into their brands, looking at internal practices as well as external focus in the community.
  • Others took a more performative approach with little action behind the words, what is known as "woke washing."

What's happening: The companies that became purpose-led "were much more able to adapt during the COVID time period and navigate it," says Diane Primo, CEO of Purpose Brand Agency and a keynote speaker at the conference.

  • She argues the companies that prioritize purpose are more long-term focused and able to weather social disruptions.
  • A number of major investment firms are pushing companies in this direction, making the case that it's the new way to do business.

The bottom line: The message Primo will tell Colorado business leaders is simple. A company's purpose "is now in the mainstream. This is something that can no longer be ignored," she says.

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