Consumers in North America, Europe, and Australia are consulting corporate social and environmental reports more commonly than originally thought, reveals a recent international survey conducted by GlobeScan (formerly Environics International). According to the poll, half of the general public in North America, Australia, and some parts of Europe say they have either read a corporate social responsibility report themselves, briefly looked at one, or heard about one from someone else.

“We did not expect to see that an audience for CSR reports does exist among the general public,” says Chris Coulter, director of CSR Research at GlobeScan. “The reports are generally not intended for the general public, but rather for investors, stakeholders and people who are specifically looking for such information.”

The survey also found that opinion leaders—people who are the most likely to be engaged in and speak out on corporate issues—are twice as likely as the general public to say they have looked at a report, suggesting that even more people will be reading these reports in the future.

“These corporate social reports are the new corporate communications,” says Coulter. “They are becoming an important communication technique for companies in our ‘show me’ world.

 “Thus far, the conventional wisdom has been that the general consumer is not a target audience for CSR reporting. Our research not only suggests that the general public is a potential target audience, but that these reports may also be an influential way for companies to communicate their commitment to CSR, ultimately leading to better reputation and increased market share.”