By Alan Murray and Geoffrey Smith
June 6, 2017

Good morning.

The way CEOs view their role in society, I believe, has changed dramatically over the last two decades. That’s why you see a man like Disney’s Bob Iger taking a stand against President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord, or why so many businesses got involved in fighting the bathroom bill in North Carolina.

There are a number of reasons for this change: rising demands from socially-conscious employees and customers; increased transparency resulting from ubiquitous social media; the accelerating pace of technological change and its effects on the practice of management; declining trust and confidence in business; and the general failure of federal government, to name a few. But for whatever reason, today’s CEOs are taking on social issues in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago.

There’s evidence of the change in our new poll of Fortune 500 CEOs. A solid majority—58%—agreed with the statement: “as a CEO, it’s important to take a stand on some public issues,” while only 42% said it’s better “to focus on issues that directly affect the bottom line, and avoid controversial public issues.” That’s an increase over the last two years, when only 52% (2015) and 48% (2016) of Fortune 500 CEOs agreed on the importance of speaking out.

Moreover, in a new question this year, only 4% agreed with the Milton Friedman-esque statement: “I believe my company should mainly focus on making profits, and not be distracted by social goals. “ Instead, the majority—52%—said they believed their company had “a responsibility to address social problems through charitable activities, but not as a part of our core business strategy.” And 43% said they believe their company “should actively seek ways to address major social problems as a core part of our business strategy.”

It’s that last group—still a minority, but growing—that’s the focus of Fortune’s Change the World list, which spotlights companies making progress addressing social problems by putting them at the center of their strategy. The list, which is produced with the help of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer of FSG consulting, will be published in September, but we are taking nominations now and welcome your suggestions.

By the way, if you want to take the survey we gave to Fortune 500 CEOs, you can do so here.

More news below.

Alan Murray


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