Friday, May 18, 2012

The Case for Sustainability Case Studies

How can you use Case Studies to galvanize markets? I have two fine examples from my personal experience this week in Eastern Europe. The first: Ukraine. The second: Romania.

On Monday 14th May, I was pleased to attend the launch of the Fourth Annual National Case Study Contest in Kiev, Ukraine. On Wednesday 16th May, I was also pleased to attend the second day of the European CSR Lessons Conference in Bucharest, Romania. Both events show how the development of Case Studies are contributing to increasing awareness, recognition and sharing of best practice as a platform for market development in these two fabulous and energetic markets where CSR is emerging with the help of committed and dynamic leaders.

What is the value  of a Sustainability Case Study?

A Case Study helps develop Internal Dialogue and Learning: In order to develop a full Case Study, which offers much more depth than a short paragraph on a website or in a Sustainability Report, a comprehensive dialogue must be held within an organization to establish the background, full story of activities conducted, description of outcomes and aggregation of learnings. This cannot be done by one person alone. A great Case Study is the result of internal collaboration which engenders dialogue and teamwork and expands learning for entire teams and companies.

A Case Study helps Focus on Outcomes: By its very nature, a Case Study is not complete without a description, quantitative as well as qualitative, of the outcomes of activity. By its very nature, a Case Study cannot be written until an activity or a process is complete and has delivered a change in the status quo. Far too often, especially in Sustainabiltiy Reporting, or even in internal decision making processes, the focus is on "doing" rather than "delivering an outcome". A Case Study, well-written, encompasses both, and helps link what is done to what has changed as a result. In terms of sustainability, this is of course key. It is unfathomable that we have thousands of companies "doing" sustainability without being able to explain the noticeable impacts of such activity.

A Case Study is an Organizational Story: Often a Case Study will tell the story of an organization's culture and showcase the way things get done. This becomes an organizational story, which can be told and retold in order to inspire additional sustainability activities in the company and reinforce a culture of sustainability and responsible practices. Moreover, a Case Study is one of the few platforms where company can tell its own story in full. There is little media coverage of individual, successful sustainability interventions. Case Studies can fill that gap.

A Case Study is a Learning Tool: Because a Case Study of necessity contains detail of all the stages of an initiative, the Case Study becomes a learning tool for an organization and for external stakeholders. By developing a Case Study, an organization contributes to the body of knowledge in the field, which is important, given the relatively limited knowledge about what is actually happening in companies today. There are many headlines, Press Releases and  short references to Sustainability practices available via different channels. The depth of a good Case Study creates not only awareness but also knowledge of what can be done, and how and what works best.

A Case  Study is a  Tool to Engage Stakeholders: Beyond the internal learning and dialogue, a Case Study can be used to engage external stakeholders either in the preparation of a Case Study in which they were involved or were impacted, and/or in the discussion of case studies completed. This both enlightens stakeholders about the sustainability activities of the company and also involves them in evaluating the sustainability initiatives. The insights of external stakeholders about possible reapplication, extension or development of a concept could be valuable for a company in determining future goals.

A Case Study is a Platform for Building Reputation: While Case Studies alone cannot build trust, and they are best in combination with existing, transparent, sustainability communications on a broader level, Case Studies can contribute to building reputation by showing how companies identified a risk or an opportunity, addressed either or both, and delivered focused action. This confirms the sustainability capabilities of a company and demonstates their commitment, which has positive reputational value.

Case Studies build Transparency Muscles: Many companies which are not ready to deliver a full, transparent Sustainability Report can develop their transparency muscles through publishing Case Studies. Often, this carries little risk because Case Studies tend to focus on successful examples of practice. The publication of a Case Study is a way to create awareness for corporate sustainability activities without the necessary rigor of producing a GRI-based or UNCG or other form of report, which demands much higher resources and much greater transparency. In the absence of broader sustainability communications, a Case Study becomes a pilot for transparency, and starts getting those muscles into shape.

Case Studies build Discipline: Finally, the development of a Case Study requires discipline and rigor. Used as a leadership exercise, this can help build management and communication skills, and teamworking, within an organization.

Events framed around the development of Case Studies are attractive propositions. The development of a single Case Study is usually not a massive organizational resource burden. Participation in such events often accessible to companies where more extensive disclosure requirements might exclude many from participating. In Ukraine and Romania, this is well understood and both are using the Case Study concept as a way to drive sustainability and awareness  in their nascent markets.

To read more about the Ukraine Case Study experience, go to this post:

To read more about the European CSR Lessons Case Study conference, go to this post.

For ice cream, go to your local ice cream parlor or get yourself one of these (a kind gift from my friend, Paul Scott, MD of

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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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