Get out in front | Risk Advisory | Deloitte Netherlands


Get out in front

Resilience, Crisis & Reputation

2020 is an inflection point as consumers and citizens increasingly demand change from business leaders and corporations, our new research reveals. While activism has been prominent in our lives for some time, it has been convenient to dismiss it as a fringe activity. Recently, most business leaders have felt the tide beginning to turn, as many societies have become frustrated with the status quo on issues of race, equality, inclusion and the planet. We predict COVID-19 will accelerate that slow groundswell into a tide of activism over the next decade.

Age of activism

Our Get out in Front research reveals that 40% of the general public say the pandemic will make them more likely to be engaged in social issues. Pre-pandemic, 38% of respondents classify as actively engaged in the last 12 months having signed a petition, attended a protest, donated and campaigned.

To understand what is driving this activist spirit, we researched public feeling towards several of today's key mega trends: Social and cultural change, environmental change, digital revolution and responsible capitalism.

The results show that people want change, expect action from business leaders and are equally anxious and optimistic about the issues facing us. Respondents' number one issue is reducing carbon emissions, and 74% of respondents stated that climate change and extreme weather patterns will become even more important by 2025.

More broadly, 59% care more about reducing poverty and wealth inequality than they did a year ago. One of the likely legacies of 2020 is that activism goes further mainstream, posing challenging questions for senior business leaders and others that manage risks in their organizations.

Power to the people

Where public attitudes go, media, policymakers and businesses eventually follow, which will lead to important changes. In the COVID-19 era, and beyond, corporations can no longer passively spectate on key issues, because society demands change and increasingly expects businesses to act responsibly and lead by example.

For instance, 75% of respondents expect CEOs in the consumer sector to make more progress on reducing carbon emissions. The public wants action, not just words, as 58% expect businesses to adjust their daily operations to address the environmental issues they take a stance on.

This trend will only strengthen, as our research shows that activism is three times stronger in younger generations than in the over 65 age group, which may make sustainability a key business imperative.

Business and reputation dividend

Those that 'get out in front' will not only emerge with stronger reputations, but enjoy the economic benefits as well. These benefits range from getting a fairer hearing from regulators, attracting more talent, raising capital on better terms and enhancing consumer loyalty.

We learned that 42% of respondents changed consumption habits because of their feelings on environmental issues. And 23% said they switched their purchases to a company or brand that shares their values on environmental issues. Finally, 21% encouraged others to switch to a company or brand that aligns with their values on the environment.

The good news for businesses is that there is lots of opportunity for improvement. Less than 40% of respondents think business currently has a positive impact on society. However, young people aged between 18-25, instead of being anxious about issues, feel excited and energetic about the future.

Behaviour drives reputation

We asked respondents to rate different industries on our reputation indicators, such as: 1) Did they trust them; 2) are they responsible; and 3) do they make a positive impact?'

Despite regular controversies, the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sector leads on four out of our five reputation indicators, including:

  • 50% agreed that the TMT sector has a positive impact on society
  • 44% agreed that the sector leads the debate on issues important to me and has a good overall reputation
  • Post COVID-19 we see a 5% rise in those who agreed that the TMT sector leads the debate on important issues

Our research confirms the view that the response to a diverse range of social, cultural and environmental issues increasingly shapes the reputation of large companies.

Consequently, we predict that reputational damage will "catch fire" in the future, as more companies fall short when facing various issues and the microscope of public scrutiny.

A final thought

Deloitte global CEO Punit Renjen reflected earlier in 2020 that "the world has reached a tipping point on societal issues: from racial justice to climate change, people around the world are demanding action – and this time feels different." He's right. We now have data to validate this.

In our current Resilience Reimagined campaign, we have identified the three pillars of organizational resilience: finance, operations and reputation. Therefore, identifying shifts in public opinion is imperative if organizations want to be more resilient.

The true prize is there for Chief Executives who see both the reputational and business dividends that come from being part of and aligned with social and environmental change.

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