My kids asked me the other day why Santa needed to make a list. "Can't he just remember it all?" they asked. But as Santa and others do this time of year, we are compelled to not only examine the year in retrospect, but to celebrate, analyze, and debate the major events of the last twelve months. 

While no list of CSR events is complete or relevant for very long, the debate itself can shed new light on how we see sustainability now and what we will expect in the coming years. 2010 brought an opportunity to see how companies who lead on CSR deal with tough situations: HP, Google, Toyota, and BP were all in the spotlight, and for some, their leadership reputation may never fully rebound.

The list that follows is one perspective on the most impactful events of 2010, a year of tough choices, big events, and CSR issues in the mainstream:

  1. Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill: It’s no surprise that many CSR events lists will lead with this event, which was catastrophic for the environment and caused the loss of several lives. For many CSR analysts, this event also shed new light on the gaps between how companies talk about sustainability and truly integrate good practices into their business.
  2. Human Trafficking: The State of California passed historic legislation in Act SB 657, requiring major retail sellers and manufacturers doing business in California to disclose their voluntary efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chain for tangible goods offered for sale. The first step is already evident: Companies are seeking to understand their impacts and where human trafficking can occur.
  3. WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks, and Radically Real Transparency: We’ve been talking about radical transparency for years now, and Julian Assange delivered on it. Right or wrong, this is an example of more to come, and how technology changes the game with regard to accessing information.
  4. Google Withdraws from China: In a bold move, Google aimed to deliver on its “Do No Evil” mantra and withdrew from China, highlighting the complexity of operating in a global marketplace.
  5. Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Unilever’s sustainability plan is ambitious not only for the goals it sets but for taking a long-term vision.
  6. CSR Goes Mainstream at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): The SEC highlighted the importance of understanding how social and environmental issues impact a company’s valuation through legislation that requires publicly listed companies to disclosure to the SEC both their due diligence to identify conflict minerals in products they manufacture and also that publicly listed companies must report on their climate change risks.
  7. Walmart’s Sustainability Index: Walmart started the year by announcing ambitious GHG reduction goals. It then flexed its market positioning and supply chain muscle once again by getting more companies on board with responsible supply chain management so that companies who score higher on the Sustainability Index will get more shelf space. Are you listening, marketing departments?
  8. The Nissan Leaf Launch: The Nissan Leaf (also referred to as the LEAF) launched in December in Japan and the United States as the first mass-produced electric car for sale from a major manufacturer. Winning the European 2011 Car of the Year doesn’t hurt either.
  9. Citizen’s United Decision: Time will tell if the controversial (and close) decision by the United States Supreme Court will radically shift the political landscape, now that companies and special interest groups can spend to their heart's delight in an attempt to favorably shift the outcomes of political races and ballot measures nationwide.
  10. Alien Tort Act: U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Alien Tort Statute is not applicable to corporations, meaning plantiffs cannot file lawsuits against companies for human rights violations around the world. Individuals may still be sued, however, leaving corporate officers open to liability.