Saturday, May 1, 2010

CSR and the rat race

I was starting a review of a  sustainability report for  and the thought popped into my head  that what we are talking about when we say CSR and Sustainability  Reporting  can be termed RATS  for short.

The Rat Race (rat in singular) as we know it, tends to refer to a negative thing, it's a term for endless self-defeating or pointless pursuit! I suppose some of you may equate that to Sustainability Reporting (don't all shout at once) . Rats are often not credited with anything other than being a pain and a pest. Even the town of Hamlin hired Van Johnson to rid the town of millions of these unwanted guests. But, my thoughts about rats came from a different direction.  Rats themselves  live purposeful lives and make an important contribution to space exploration. They are considered to be fantastic pets, warm and cuddly, and very intelligent, as smart as dogs and  completely willing to learn new things. If you were born in the Year of the Rat, you possess outstanding qualities such as creativity, honesty, generosity and ambition. Rats are scavengers and will eat just about anything, and  therefore make a major contribution to environmental sustainability. Rats are community minded and live in colonies of 50 to 60 rats, making sure they care for all members of their community in true social spirit. Rats are real survivors and can fall 5 stories and live to tell the tale.. or should I say tail. Rats can survive without water longer than a camel which obviously is a benefit for water scarcity. There are 56 species of rat, which makes them a valuable element of diversity in our biosphere.

There are many references to rats and CSR. For example, in the book The Debate Over Corporate Responsibility, the authors talk about a typical CSR response to rat poison regulations. Indo Agri uses barn owls to control rats which are a threat to sustainable palm plantations, and Rentokil has a Rat Alert project in which volunteers run around capturing rats as their flagship CSR community contribution. Novo Nordisk report using nearly 60,000 rats and mice in animal experimentation in their 2009 Annual Report, and many other pharma Companies report on rat-use for similar reasons, whilst Dong Energy refer in their report to discount rats (page 101) (but I suspect they meant to refer to rates, not rats, and that they ought to fire their proofreader). And the most creative mention of rats in a CSR report goes to Straumann Holding AG, a global leader in implant and restorative dentistry, who tells the story of the Pied Piper, and then asks:
hmmm. Stretchng a point, no ? But full marks for imagination. And guess what, The German Council for Sustainable Development, who ranks sustainability reports is called a Rat.

But, aside from the obvious connections I have made above, what's the connection between the genus Rattus and CSR Reporting? I will now reveal all.

In my world, RATS stands for:
  • Responsibility (of a business for its impacts)
  • Accountability (of a business to its stakeholders, and its engagement with them)
  • Transparency (of a business about its sustainability performance in the form of reporting)
  • Sustainability (of a business through oportunities to improve performance whilst contributing to creating a better world.
Perhaps we should start changing the name of sustainability reports to RATS Reports? Perhaps we should have RATS Employee Engagement programs in the business? Perhaps we should have RATS Scorecards, RATS Reviews and RATS Communications Strategies ? Maybe we can convert the RAT race into a RATS Race ? In any event, if you really dont like the potentially negative connotations of pursuing a RATS strategy, you can always practice word-scrambling and convert your RATS strategy to a STAR strategy.

oh, and rats just LOVE chunky Monkey. So I hear.

elaine cohen is the CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at  


FabianPattberg said...

Nice article Elaine. I love the RATS abbreviation meaning.
I am not so sure about the new way of calling the reports RATS reports. STAR sounds a lot better! :-)

Great insights as always.

Have a great weekend.


Maria said...

Is it Chunky Monkey that makes you so insightfull, yet the funniest CSR writer around?! If yes, I'll have a go for sure! :-)

elaine said...

Hi Fabian and Maria, thanks for reading and for commenting! RATS RULE! hahahah

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