Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sustainability in any language

An interesting article about the power of language to determine thought  (and we all know that thought leads to action) was posted by Lis Duarte on Twitter. The article quotes linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf who first posited in the 1930s that language is so powerful that it can determine thought. Certain words, it seems, can shape our thoughts and feelings, depending on the language in which they are presented. For example, you may read the words:

This may not create much of a reaction . But then you read the words:

These words, on the other hand,  may make you rush to read the latest sustainability report published. This might take you to General Mills' Sustainability Report 2011, a company which employs 33,000 people in the pursuit of Nourishing Lives (funny, I thought Campbell's Soup had cornered that concept). Anyhow, General Mills' report starts out with the words "We made a lot of progress in 2010 and have a lot to be proud about". Not lacking in modesty, then, Ken Powell, CEO, then talks about how General Mills has improved the health profile of products and increased corporate philanthropy and employee volunteering, as well as some interesting initatives on renewable energy sourcing and a new oat burner which both makes products and provides steam for heating.  Back to health, I was caught on the progress GM has made in reducing sugar content of breakfast cereals advertized to children which is now under 10g per serving. What I don't know here, not being a nutritionist,  is whether 10g is good or bad (it's better than previously) but compared to industry norms, existing regulations and recommended serving sizes, whether this is good enough, or just good, or not even scratching the surface. General Mills provides a separate brochure called the Benefits of Breakfast Cereals which goes some way to explaining the context around breakfast cereal food properties.

The GM Sustainability Report is not aligned with the GRI framework but GM has established a cross functional team to evaulate the merits of GRI based reporting. While this report covers a lot of ground in its 86 pages, it seems rather light on data and is mostly about stories and policies. A more rigorous (and assured) framework for GM reporting would be welcomed. Still, we were talking about words....

If you read the words:

you might not be motivated to rush out to prepare your company's first Sustainability Report, despite the fact that the mainstreaming of sustainability reporting is now a clear mission for the GRI and many stakeholders. However, if you read: 

you may start putting pen to paper immediately. 

If  you read the words:

you may be prompted to contact me. Hahahaha. Who said I am not allowed to shamelessly promote my report reviewing and writing services on this blog (very) occasionally? However, if you read :

you might consider contacting a Sustainability Reporting consultant in Moscow. And then contact me. Haha.

(Disclaimer: If the above does not mean "We need help writing our sustainability report", please refer to Google Translate. The writer bears no liability for the consequences of whatever the above translated sentence might mean!)

On the other hand, if you read the words:

you may be prompted to forget all about reporting and go back to dealing with the more important things in life . Chunky Monkey is the same in any language.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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