Tuesday, August 3, 2010

100 companies benchmarked for CSR initatives

There are so many reports on CSR and Sustainability published by so many different people, companies and groups that it is hard to keep up with all of them. I find myself having to skim many of them, and even that's usually not before around 2 in the morning. Many offer minimal net additional value to the wealth of words and numbers reaching my screen. So when a report is produced that makes me stop everything and study deeply, I am thankful because it means I am learning something new and important that contributes to my knowedge and thinking about sustainability, and that makes me a better consultant, a better CSR blogger and a more critical and contributing member of the professional CSR community. This was my experience with the new Sustainability Initiatives 2009 Report from SLM Insights, a division of Sustainable Life Media, and Zumer.com. An Exec Sum can be downloaded here.

This report analyses over 6,000 individual sustainability iniatives from 100 companies in 10 sectors, producing detailed results showing: the relative rankings of each company in each sector based on the quantitative (cost-reduction driven) initiatives and qualitative (revenue-generating) initiatives.  There is also a comparison of the nature of the initiatives in each sector, showing where most  companies are putting their time and energies. The sectors analysed (and the three top-ranked companies in each sector)  are:

*  airlines ( Quantas, British Airways, Cathay Pacific)
*  alcoholic beverages (Anheuser Busch, Foster's Group, InBev)
*  automotive (Daimler, Honda, Toyota)
*  clothing (Gap, H&M, Inditex)
*  consumer electronics (Sony, Samsung, Toshiba)
*  diversified foods (Nestle, Kraft Foods, Danone)
*  footwear (Timberland, Adidas, Puma)
*  oil and gas (Royal dutch Shell, Total, Suncor)
*  paper products (Weyerhaueser, Norske SKkog, Catalyst)
*  personal household (Procter and Gamble, Kimberley Clark, SC Johnson)

Each sector is a mini-report in itself, and offers a comparable study of the focus and achievements against 38 different data points accross 4 categories:

*  Environmental Initiatives
   (leading iniatives here are GHG reduction, energy use and impact of products on the environment)
*  Social Responsibility Activities
   (leading initiatives here are community impact, employee benefits and  employee health and safety)
*  Product Responsibility Activities
   (leading initatives here are consumer health and safety, customerr satisfaction and marketing ethics)
*  Corporate Citizenship activities
   (leading initiatives here are transparency of political contributions, anti-corruption and CEO compensation).

What is also interesting in this report is the feedback from 1,700  consumers surveyed. In each of the consumer goods sectors, consumers were asked what is important to them,  data that can be contrasted with wthere the sector is actually focussing its efforts. In the Personal Household Goods sector, for example, energy efficiency is of most interest to consumers (42%) whereas the sector focuses 17% of its efforts in this area, with GHG reduction and material use being prominent iniatives. In the consumer electronics sector, consumers are most intersted in recycled materials used in product manufacture (48%) rather than the level of GHG emissions. Overall this report shows there is "significant discord between industry activity and consumer demand". A stark contrast reported in this context  is that Companies see community giving as an integral part of their sustainability program whereas consumers see corporate philanthropy as "old fashioned" , rarely affecting their purchasing decision. These are most interesting insights which could assist compaines in considering how their sustainability efforts address consumer  concerns, rather than more generic sustainability considerations, for added consumer engagement.

Findings and conclusions from this report are multiple. Some are:

Consumer interest in sustainability initiatives differed across industries - as a result, companies must address the specific consumer pain-points  for each industry
Minimal inter-industry collaboration occurred; opportunity exists for companies to share and learn best practices
Consumers only prioritize GHG emissions reductions in categories where there is a direct, visible output, for example in the automitive sector, where fuel efficiency was mentioned by 81% of consumers and GHG Emissions levels by a further 16%. In the clothing and apparel sector, for example, GHG emissions were not mentioned by consumers.
Waste reduction and recycling is an increasing priority
Companies are reporting on their sustainability activity more frequently and releasing shorter, targeted reports as a result
Companies are prioritizing supply chain efficiencies and seeking ways to reduce costs by improving energy use, water use and waste recycling programs

and perhaps one of the most significant conclusions of all, and one of the most disturbing, is this:

Few companies view sustainability as a core part of their global strategy; most still view sustainability policy as a means to mitigate risk and achieve operational efficiencies.

This means that CSR and sustainability is still at the level of short-term project-focused thinking and less at the level of creating true long term triple bottom line value - but more about this in my editorial for CSRwire.com  which will be published later this month.

I have lots more to say about the implications and insights this report raises and hope to find time to blog more with specific insights in coming days/weeks. In the meantime, these headlines should serve to give you an an appreciation for the richness of this study.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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