Published 3 years ago.
About a 9 minute read.
In the midst of all the unrest and uncertainty, where did we see innovation, progress and possibility in 2020? Porter Novelli analyzed a year’s worth of Purpose-driven news, activities, campaigns and announcements; and distilled our 10 need-to-know trends for today and tomorrow.
2020 was undisputedly a year like none other. Widespread wildfires in
Australia were soon eclipsed by the
COVID-19 pandemic —
followed in quick succession by economic uncertainty, growing racial inequity
and unrest, political divisiveness, and the most active hurricane season on
2020 was the year social issues were escalated and exacerbated under the
pressure of COVID-19;
and pundits drew the connection between the pandemic and climate change —
ringing the bell that the next major crisis was looming. Meanwhile, the movement
for racial justice grew to a nationwide cry — with calls to address
longstanding, systemic racism deeply embedded in US society. 2020 unabashedly
revealed how interconnected we all are — individuals, communities, businesses,
government — regardless of background or beliefs, around the world.
As the COVID-19 outbreak continued, individuals and institutions alike realized
there was no going back to the way things were; but rather, this could be an
opportunity to act resiliently and rethink a better way
So, in the midst of unrest and uncertainty, where did we see innovation,
progress and possibility in 2020?
To capture the top trends of 2020, Porter
Novelli reviewed and analyzed a year’s worth of
Purpose-driven news, activities, campaigns and announcements. Through this, we
distilled our 10 need-to-know trends for today and tomorrow:
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Even as the pandemic rages on, nearly
(63 percent) of us in the US expect companies to continue the progress they
committed to regarding social and environmental issues. This year, we saw many
companies meet massive sustainability goals — some ahead of schedule.
Kicking off the year, Bank of America
it met its carbon-neutrality goal a year early. In September, Google
announced it achieved a lifetime net-carbon footprint of
followed by a carbon-neutrality achievement from
in the same month. 2020 has always been a milestone year for commitments; even
in the face of crisis, companies followed through.
2020 was a year of reckoning for organizations to acknowledge their roles in
perpetuating racism in the US. In fact, 76
of executives today acknowledge businesses’ role in systemic
— and a further 73
of Americans wish more companies would acknowledge past mistakes or biases when
talking about race. As companies look internally to address longstanding,
operationalized inequities, there is still much work left to be done to truly
committed to hiring 30 percent more Black employees by 2024, while West
Elm became the third company to sign
the 15 Percent Pledge — dedicating 15
percent of shelf space to Black-owned business. Sephora took July 7th
(#BlackoutDay) to not only conduct racial bias trainings for employees, but
announce the results of a first-of-its-kind report: the Sephora Retail Bias
For companies, this year reinforced that some of the world’s most pressing
challenges are too big for one organization to solve alone. Taking their cue
from this, we saw organizations cross competitive lines to collaborate on
At the onset of COVID-19, we saw Apple and
join forces to create an app-based contact tracing program; while General
Mills, Nestlé and
CEOs all signed on for a CEO-led effort to end food waste. Finally, adidas and
opened “the doors to each other's suite of sustainable innovations,” in an
effort to create a shoe with the lowest carbon footprint ever — marking the
first time adidas has ever collaborated with a shoe brand outside of its own
of US consumers think companies have the opportunity, due to the pandemic, to be
more thoughtful about how they incorporate sustainability into their business
models moving forward. And although many climate commitments were achieved in
2020, other companies used this year as a launch-pad for even more aggressive
Going beyond carbon neutral, many companies announced aspirations to achieve a
carbon-negative future — including Microsoft, which committed $1
for a new investment fund to achieve its carbon-negative goal in the next 10
years. UK brewer BrewDog committed to creating a carbon-negative
as well — aiming to remove twice as much carbon as each employee produces on a
(56 percent) of those surveyed won’t support a brand if they can’t see
themselves represented in its marketing and communications. Ensuring diverse
representation in products and services is a crucial step companies must take
Earlier this year,
launched bandages in various skin tones, prompting one customer to tweet: “For
the first time in my life, I know what it feels like to have a ‘band-aid’ in my
own skin tone.”
brand followed suit with a similar announcement in June. Meanwhile,
announced a new line of Barbies — including dolls with no hair, disabilities and one with
"a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion."
At the inception of the pandemic, the
(78 percent) of us in the US agreed the primary role of business was to protect
its employees in times such as these. Recognizing the important role companies
can play in protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of employees, we saw
many organizations answer the call.
was one of the first companies to offer catastrophe pay to employees so workers
could quarantine without risking their livelihoods. Similarly,
began offering unlimited sick time to hourly employees — including retail
workers — if they experienced COVID-19-related symptoms. And as the pandemic
is investing an additional $70 million in additional employee bonuses — as
these essential workers head into the busy holiday season.
The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately impacted small businesses in the
U.S., especially those that are minority and women-owned, with research
indicating more than 100,000 small
have permanently closed since the start of the pandemic. Yet the plight of the
small business has also highlighted how interconnected the business community is
— and now bigger brands are stepping up to help.
announced it would provide early payment to its most vulnerable small and
medium-sized suppliers in order to help with financial liquidity. Meanwhile,
aimed to help business recover post-COVID with a commitment to support 50
million small businesses worldwide — including a special initiative to help
Black women entrepreneurs secure funding.
As one of the most consumer-facing aspects of a company’s sustainability
strategy, packaging has become a priority for many brands this year. Considering
containers and packaging make up 82.2 million
of municipal solid waste a year, these efforts could make a significant impact.
both announced paper bottle prototypes in 2020, with Absolut running a
controlled rollout in November. In the quick-serve space, Taco
publicized 100 percent recyclable packaging; while Burger
invested in reusable containers with partner TerraCycle. Meanwhile,
declared fully recyclable toothpaste tubes for its entire oral health line by
As the 2020 presidential election drew near, the emphasis around encouraging the
US public to exercise its right to vote became critical. Companies of all sizes
participated in these
driving individuals to registration sites and to the polls. This ultimately
contributed to historic voter
For example, Old
encouraged its employees to take part in the voting process by paying employees
who volunteered as poll workers; while Foot
stimulated broader voter participation by turning stores into voter registration
hubs. For their part, MTV, BET and Comedy
contributed $250,000 to pay off fines and fees preventing formerly incarcerated
people from voting.
As the Black Lives
rallying cry hit new heights following the murder of George Floyd, many
companies quickly issued statements of support to Black communities. However,
the public urged this was not enough — and 82
of US consumers said these communications must be followed by decisive
went beyond its open support of protests against racial injustice by “looting
its own store” — giving away its entire Kenosha, WI store inventory to
community-based organizations suggested by Penzey’s fans. Ben &
followed up its statement to “Dismantle White Supremacy” with a
educate US listeners on the “country’s lesser-known history of racial injustice,
and show how legally enforced discrimination and state-sanctioned brutality
continued long after slavery ended.”
Although 2020 may be a year many of us would like to solidly put in the past,
it’s critical we don’t forget the lessons we have learned from this
And in fact, the inequities surfaced in 2020 will only continue to be center
stage as we move into the new year — and the mandate from the US public will not
fade away. Indeed, 71
of consumers believe the pandemic will force companies to act more responsibly
in the long term; and a further
(62 percent) think companies have the opportunity, due to the pandemic, to be
more thoughtful about how they incorporate sustainability into their business
models moving forward. It is up for Purpose-driven companies to continue to push
for widespread change, so we can emerge from this time better and brighter.
*Porter Novelli/Cone client
Published Dec 14, 2020 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
With nearly 15 years of experience in the purpose/ESG/impact space, Whitney Dailey is a leading practitioner at the intersection of purpose and communications.
At Allison+Partners, Whitney serves as Executive Vice President of Purpose and leads the agency’s newly formed Purpose Center of Excellence – a dedicated team specializing in Purpose brand strategy and ESG leadership, backed by A+P’s global network of more than 500+ creatives and storytellers. In this role, Whitney helps clients establish, communicate and measure ESG goals and strategies, as well as build breakthrough social impact programs and thoughtful, strategic Purpose programs and initiatives from the ground up.