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, Inc. (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 (CSR) 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."

Coulter also points out 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.

And among those who are aware of CSR reports, majorities in most countries say that reading or hearing about a report improved their impression of the company, led them to buy the company's products or speak positively about the company to others. According to Coulter, the publication of a CSR report can impact corporate reputation and the bottom line, particularly if reports are tailored for and made available to the general public.

"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."