American consumers are willing to pay a premium for goods from socially responsible companies, with 70 percent saying they would pay more for a $100 product from a company they regard as responsible, according to a new survey.

Shopping3_iS_0000001Despite the economic recession, 59 percent of those responding said they plan to spend the same or more on products from socially responsible companies.

The second annual Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey was conducted by research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with brand consulting firm Landor Associates and strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller.  The results are based on 1,001 online interviews with the general public in the U.S. conducted in mid-February 2010.

The survey found that 75 percent of consumers say it is important for companies in each of the 14 industries tested to be socially responsible. Of those industries, Food, Consumer Goods and Retailers were perceived as performing best, while Financial Services, Healthcare and Media were perceived as performing worst.

Food giant General Mills was perceived to be the most responsible of 64 tested brands.

The survey found that more than half (55%) of consumers are unsure about the meaning of “corporate social responsibility.”  Of those who do know what “CSR” means, 20% percent said it involves “giving back to the community” while 19% say it is about “self-regulation and accountability.” Responsible environmental (16%) and employment (16%) practices were seen as the top ways to be socially responsible, the survey found.

Seventy-eight percent of employees are “unclear or unaware” of their employers’ CSR activities, according to the survey.  One third of workers said they would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible firm.  About one half (49%) of 18-24 year old employees would take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible firm compared with 33% of 35-39 year olds and 25% of employees 65 years of age and older, the survey found.