NEW YORK: Companies around the world are continuing to focus on matters ranging from the impact of their activity on the environment to setting ethical standards for advertising, research from McKinsey has revealed.

The consultancy polled over 1,000 executives from across the globe, and reported that the number which thought large corporations "make a positive contribution to the public good" had fallen from 67% in 2007 to 59% this year.

However, 72% also believed the onset of the economic downturn had heightened expectations among consumers that businesses should play such a role.

Some 87% of firms taking action on sociopolitical matters said this included addressing environmental issues like climate change, a figure that reached 85% for privacy and data security.

Other areas of interest were supplying healthier or safer goods, on 80%, investing more in emerging markets, on 78%, making affordable products for less well-off consumers, on 74%, and developing more ethical offerings, on 73%.

Establishing "ethical standards for advertising and marketing" were attracting the attention of 73% of participants, compared with just 38% for tackling high levels of pay and other compensation among senior management.

With regard to the impact of the recession, 35% of the sample agreed it had stimulated their further involvement in ecological concerns, as did 27% for privacy, and 24% for making low-cost goods.

Just 21% saw the downturn as generating an uptick in interest in healthier products, with 16% agreeing with this notion for developing a greater number of ethically-produced lines, and 14% for promoting ethical marketing practices.

In terms of the business benefits of these types of initiatives, 48% said eco-friendly strategies boosted brand loyalty and reputation, as did 47% for producing healthier or safer brands, and 41% for addressing privacy concerns.

With regard to the areas most likely to attract public and political attention over the next five years, the environment again took top spot, mentioned by 49% of the panel, down from 57% last year.

While a less substantial 28% of respondents afforded this status to executive remuneration, this total was up 13% year-on-year, with 94% of contributors regarding the credit crunch as having increased scrutiny on this area.
McKinsey's report concluded that "responding to the public's higher expectations for business's role in society, best-practice companies will address the social and political issues while seeing the potential to create shareholder value."

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff