5 Industry-Leading CSR Programs — But Not for the Reasons You Think

Rebecca Mitsch

Communications strategist working with MovingWorlds

If you’ve found yourself googling, “what are the best CSR programs” at some point in your CSR career, you know it’s not as straightforward as you might hope to find a definitive list. Why? Because companies can announce a new sustainability target, equity initiative, or philanthropic donation every week, but many never speak to the true impact of their program.

How can we know what is just greenwashing and what will make an impact in a truly catalytic way? We suggest a new set of evaluation criteria entirely, based on our research and interviews with over 75 Corporate CSR, social enterprise, and impact investing leaders. Earlier this year, we published our findings in the report, “Can Capitalism Lead to a More Sustainable and Equitable Economy?” To reach our conclusions, we analyzed what corporations are doing right now, and determined what they should be doing to bring about impactful and meaningful change – which is the goal of all CSR programming, but a mark that is rarely, if ever, hit.

You can read more about our research and specific takeaways for corporate leaders here, and find our 5 evaluation criteria based on those findings below. In summary, the best CSR programs are those that:

  1. Set board and executive level targets that align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  2. Compensate executives and boards based on the achievement of targets.
  3. Develop a CSR position on the executive team with Board reporting requirements.
  4. Expand the CSR strategy to intersect all business units, including targets for each.
  5. Invest in procurement, supply chains, and distribution chains to partner based on social impact, not just margins.

Let’s take a look at 5 of the CSR programs that you’ll likely see on every “best” list, and evaluate them against our criteria to see how they measure up:

1. Cisco Systems

Cisco Systems has long been a leader in CSR, quickly moving beyond simple philanthropy to prioritizing its CSR work on inclusivity. 

Why it’s great:

  • Clearly states in its 2019 Social Impact Report that “Cisco has long understood that social responsibility must be an integrated piece of our overall business strategy and that there is a clear connection between a healthy business and a healthy community.”
  • Dedicated Board committee reviews policies and programs concerning CSR
  • Has two C-Suite positions: CSR and environmental sustainability are represented through Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, and Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer 
  • Met 2020 goal and on track to reduce Cisco supply chain-related Scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent absolute by FY30.
  • Invests in the circular economy both in product production, and as a company.

How it can be even better:

  • Speak to how sustainability and equity targets contribute to executive and board performance measurement. Sustainability targets are clearly presented and measured, but are not related back to performance.
  • Include procurement and supply chain in sustainability and equity measurements. Supply chain GHG emission targets are discussed, but creating a sustainable and equitable procurement process is not.

2. Microsoft 

Microsoft believes “that companies that can do more, should,” which is why it’s usually cited as a company with admirable CSR goals (disclaimer: Microsoft is a MovingWorlds partner). 

Why it’s great:

  • CSR policies include a formal structure for Board and management review, as well as guidance on policies and programs related to CSR.
  • Notes that ESG reporting is closely tied to overall business strategy
  • Has a Chief Environmental Officer and tTe head of Microsoft’s Technology and Corporate Responsibility (TCR) team reports directly to Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer.
  • Assigns oversight responsibility to a committee of the Board, who works with management to review policies, programs, and performance.
  • In 2020, worked with top suppliers to reduce their collective carbon footprint, updated supplier code to include reporting on GHG emissions, includes tracking of performance and training of supplier employees.

How it can be even better:

  • Report on factors that drive inequity, including competitive activities and acquisitions.

3. Patagonia

With a mission of “we’re in business to save our home planet,” Patagonia is typically the first company that comes to mind when thinking about sustainability and transparent supply chains.

Why it’s great

  • Sustainability has long been integrated into core business strategy, since becoming founding members of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in the 1990’s.
  • Reports to several groups, including FLA, to measure sustainability targets and performance and Social/Environmental Responsibility Team can veto a decision to work with a new factory.
  • Has a C-Suite director of Social and Environmental Responsibility, and also decentralized its CSR department in 2014, to ensure the CSR mindset was company-wide.
  • Trained Sourcing and Supply Planning teams in responsible purchasing practices, specifically seeks out suppliers who can adhere to sustainability best practices, and puts in the time with suppliers to ensure they can adhere.

How it can be even better

  • Include more about its executive/board performance measurement and corporate governance structure.
  • Expand its impact to more of the SDGs, not just environment and work.


It’s especially fitting that a company creating children’s toys commits to sustainability goals that will ensure a better world for its primary customers. 

Why it’s great

  • The Board of Governors, and Audit Committee, and the Executive leadership Team work in conjunction to propose, revise, review, measure and track sustainability goals and targets.
  • Highlights the aspects of its business model affected by and connected to sustainability in its 2020 Sustainability Progress Report.
  • Has a Chief People Officer and Head of Corporate Affairs that manages LEGO’s sustainability agenda and reports directly to the executive Leadership Team.
  • Has key targets for its supply chain related to sustainable packaging, zero waste, and renewable energy.

How it can be even better

  • Incorporate executive/board performance measurement into sustainability reporting.
  • Discuss procurement process within its supply chain targets.
  • Improve distribution, namely pay equity and environmental impact along the last mile.

5. Starbucks 

Built on the goal of being the world’s “Third Place,” it makes sense that Starbucks focuses its global social impact priorities on its people and the communities they serve. 

Why it’s great

  • Notes that the SDGs provide the lens through which Starbucks evaluates its social impact programs and partnerships.
  • Highlights that their social impact reporting ties into the overall business strategy, and goals and objectives. 
  • Has targets related to pay equity and hiring practices for its partners (i.e. store employees) to promote equity in the community.
  • Hired a Global Chief Officer of Sustainability in late 2019.
  • Announced in 2020 that it would begin tying executive performance to DEI targets – while not directly related to sustainability targets, this is a move in the right direction.
  • Has sustainability targets for much of its supply chain, including products, packaging, and stores.

How it can be even better

  • Report on additional environmental footprints, like dairy and discuss the procurement process within its supply chain targets.
  • Track against more SDGs, including health of communities based on access to high fat/sugar beverages.

As you can see, even the “best” programs have room to improve. If your program, or the program you modeled yours off of, don’t meet all of the above criteria, that’s ok. At MovingWorlds, we are firm believers that a thoughtful design process, the right platform, and iterative data-driven improvements can take any CSR program from good to great. Learn more about partnering with MovingWorlds here