by Michael Connor

Business leaders responsible for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability programs expect budgets and activity for corporate initiatives in the sector to hold steady or increase despite economic uncertainty, according to a new survey.

Palm with a plant growng from pile of coinsThe survey was based on data from 377 respondents representing member companies of BSR, a non-profit global consulting and research organization that focuses on CSR and sustainability issues.  BSR has more than 250 corporate members, primarily large companies.

The survey found that 42 percent of the executives expect budgets for CSR and sustainability initiatives to increase in the next twelve months while 52% expect budgets to remain the same.  Only 5 percent expect budget cuts.  Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of the respondents expect as well to increase the amount of internal and external communications on CSR issues.

When asked about the likelihood that “global businesses will embrace sustainability as part of their core strategies and operations in the next five years,” 19 percent of the executives said they were “very optimistic” while 65% said they were “somewhat optimistic.”

Climate change was chosen more than any other issue as either a “significant” or “very significant” priority for companies.  “However, the urgency around climate change appears to have decreased from last year, when the Copenhagen summit was approaching,” the survey reported.   The proportion of respondents who considered climate change a “very significant priority” declined from 41 percent in 2009 to 27 percent this year, a drop from first to third.

Social issues advanced in the rankings of priorities, with workers’ rights moving to the top of the list of “very significant” priorities.   Here’s a list of top issue priorities for the executives polled:

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The survey was conducted for BSR by GlobeScan, an international opinion research consultancy.   Here’s Chris Coulter, Senior Vice President of GlobeScan, discussing the findings: