Posts tagged ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’
Recognized by PR Week as one of America’s top three most-important business rankings, Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens List” evaluates companies on 325 corporate social responsibility data points. This week we caught up with Elizabeth Boudrie, Vice President of Research for SharedXpertise (parent company of CR Magazine) to learn more about the methodology behind the ranking.
GT: With all the rankings out there, why should companies pay attention to this one? What makes this ranking unique?
EB: From a methodological standpoint, this is an audit versus a survey. One of the frustrations that I think a lot of people have in the corporate responsibility (CR) space is that “We get so many surveys, we have to pick and choose which one we’re going to do and we’re not going to do yours.”
We have to explain to people that it’s an involuntary audit—you don’t have to fill anything out. What we do is the IW Financial folks go and look for essential 325 data elements that are publicly disclosed for all Russell 1000 companies. There are a few data elements that are performance -based, but for the most part they’re disclosure-based. I think that the biggest way [the ranking is different] is that it’s very broad. We’re looking really across a broad spectrum of issues as opposed to others that are very specifically oriented to environment, social and governance (ESG), human rights or specific issues, versus our seven different categories.
GT: How did you come up with those categories?
EB: We have a methodology committee comprised of industry folks and academics and folks who together help us oversee the direction of the data elements and the whole process. And back when they originally started the process – I think this is the 13th year — they looked and said, “Ok, what are the main categories that we think make sense, that we think should be important?” And these are the categories that they came up with.
And over time, we continue to review them. They’re weighted differently based on how important the collective group thinks they are and over time we continue to review them and believe that these are the categories that do capture a broad picture of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
GT: And 2012 is the 13th year for the ranking?
EB: Yes. 2012 will be the 13th annual list.
GT: In the absence of widely agreed-upon performance metrics, I understand that many rankings currently rely on transparency as a proxy for progress. Is this the best way to evaluate companies?
EB: I think all of us would love to get past disclosure as the main determinant of ranks– and we do have some elements within our 300-some-odd data elements that are performance-based — but it’s predominantly disclosure-based. There aren’t enough people who are disclosing enough as it is. We have lots and lots of companies who disclose next to nothing out of the Russell 1000. We think of disclosure as the low bar, but if it’s the low bar there are a lot of people who aren’t stepping over it yet. So from that perspective, there’s still a long way to go.
The other issue is that with so many different companies doing so many different things, it’s very difficult to find a reasonable performance standard that you can apply across company size, across company industry, across company type. And I think everybody is still struggling to find out what that is in every ranking. So I think it’s a reasonable proxy for now because it’s the best we can do but I don’t think anybody’s happy with that forever. And I think everybody’s looking for a better way.
GT: What does transparency tell you about a company?
EB: Transparency maybe doesn’t tell you everything, but a company certainly doesn’t talk about things it’s doing poorly, typically. To us the willingness of a company to be transparent indicates strong management, a willingness to be self-reflective, to understand what’s going on within their environment—both within their own environment internally as well as externally– and it just demonstrates connection to what’s happening in the world right now. I think they’re recognizing over time that people are more interested in exactly what’s happening and that means being transparent about what’s happening with your organization, whether that’s your human rights record, whether that’s your impact on the environment, your philanthropic giving, all the categories we might address.
GT: How many of your top 100 companies are ‘repeat achievers’? How much turnover do you see year over year?
EB: It changes a fair amount. The turnover changes over time, which sort of depends on the changes in the methodology, the data set. We try to limit that so there isn’t so much impact, but there can be an impact. One of our data categories is financial performance and with the recent economic downturn that really impacted some folks. So there can be some churn.
GT: How often do you update your methodology?
EB: We try to take an evolutionary versus revolutionary approach. You’d hate to see 80 percent of the list change because it wouldn’t be meaningful…Ultimately what we’re trying to do is drive people to be as transparent as they can be. So ultimately if a company is being even more transparent in 2012 than 2011 we don’t want to penalize them randomly because the methodology has changed. So we’ll try to be very careful in doing that. What you’ll find is because it’s a comparative methodology a company can do exactly what they were doing the prior year and still fall in the ranking if other companies are doing better.
GT: How does the audit process work?
EB: IW Financial, as part of their process, sends out a correspondence file, which is an opportunity for a company that they’ve audited to review the file and make sure that everything is accurate. We’ve added a separate, additional review for companies that are potentially going to be ranked so they can have a second review.
GT: When does the ranking come out?
EB: In the Spring. This year it will come out in early April.
GT: What is the circulation of Corporate Responsibility Magazine?
GT: Is the ranking publicly available information? Or is it sold?
EB:The ranking is public. And free.
Elizabeth Boudrie is Vice President of Research at SharedXpertise, where she oversees all global research efforts addressing topics such as corporate responsibility, and transformation and outsourcing of business processes. She will share more information and answer more questions about CR Magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens List” during the NAEM webinar on Jan. 24.
At the NAEM conference in Fort Lauderdale last May, I spoke about recent academic research on the link between corporate responsibility—in particular, positive environmental policies—and stock price performance. (For a review of the studies I talked about, see my paper, “Ten Things to Know about Responsible Investing.” ) I promised NAEM staff that I’d stay in touch and keep them updated when I heard of additional research that might be of interest to the membership. A paper just out from Harvard Business School definitely fits the bill.
In “The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance,” Professors Bob Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim began by identifying companies that disclosed a set of environmental and social policies in 2003-2005. They then conducted over 200 interviews with corporate executives to ascertain which companies had already begun to implement these policies internally in 1993.
Once they had a set of 90 early adopters, they created a matched sample of companies that had few sustainability policies, but were otherwise similar to the first group in terms of size, sector, growth stage and capital structure. Comparing shareholder returns for the two groups, they found that the high-sustainability group outperformed its low-sustainability peers by an annualized 2.3 percent on an equal-weighted basis,between 1993 and 2011.
The authors also demonstrated, based on a statistical analysis of keywords in analyst calls, that high-sustainability companies are more likely to discuss long-term trends and non-financial matters with investors. They study ownership and show that high-sustainability companies attract longer-term investors with more concentrated holdings. They also show that high sustainability companies also are more likely to have a board oversight of sustainability, to incorporate sustainability metrics into executive compensation, and to disclose non-financial performance. (The full study can be found at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1964011).
While the study’s performance numbers may be welcomed by corporate environment, health and safety (EHS) managers as evidence that sustainability pays, it would be interesting to know the relationship between a company’s survival rate and its sustainability activities. For example, does management of social and environmental issues acts as a kind of insurance policy, making a company more likely to be around long-term?
NAEM members would probably have valuable opinions on this question. They would also be able to offer useful perspectives on one of the study’s key follow-up questions: What ensures that companies stay the long-term course in terms of sustainability culture? Why do some companies’ programs fall apart if a key manager leaves, while other firms seem to have environmental consciousness baked into their “DNA”? These questions are just part of the lively discussion this paper is provoking.
What do you think?
Dr. Kimberly Gladman is the Director of Research and Risk Analytics at GMI, a leading provider of corporate governance, accounting, environmental and social research and ratings. Before joining GMI’s predecessor, The Corporate Library, in 2008, Dr. Gladman managed a team of associates researching global corporations at Domini Social Investments, a prominent socially responsible investment fund manager. She also served as Lead SRI Analyst for Domini’s European equity fund, and spent several years participating in the firm’s shareholder advocacy on social, environmental, and governance issues.
She began her career in academia, focused on interdisciplinary research and teaching. She earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1990, and a Ph.D. from New York University in 2001. Dr. Gladman also holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation.
Now that the world population has surpassed the seven billion marker, the “sustainability” word is getting lots of play once again. The call-to-action bugles are again warning us of a pending global catastrophe. What could suddenly create “worldwide peace, global well-being and extraordinary advancement in human development?”
In a new book, “The Coming Jobs War,” author Jim Clifton says a solution is the appearance of a whopping 1.8 billion “good” jobs. These are jobs that provide at least 30 hours of work per week and a steady pay check. Clifton believes that the country that can best achieve job growth coupled with GDP growth will be the dominant world force.
Can the United States be this global force?
Clifton believes the explosion of entrepreneurship that GDP growth requires won’t happen here until the country doubles its number of “engaged” employees: those who are using their talents every day, yielding great results, emotionally committed and are working consistently with high energy and enthusiasm.
This number currently stands at 28 percent nationally. Going from 30 million to 60 million engaged workers will “change the face of America more than any leadership institution, trillions of stimulus dollars, or any law or policy imaginable,” Clifton argues.
But as long as “one in five U.S. managers are “dangerously lousy,” these “high-energy workplaces” will elude us, Clifton says. “Fire all lousy managers today” is an imperative, he argues, because nothing fixes bad managers: not coaching, competency training, incentives or warnings. In his experience “bad managers never get better.”
What’s your reaction to his analysis? Clearly there is an opportunity for each of us is to contribute to the creation of these attractive “high energy workplaces” where we willingly give our best every day. We just can’t just afford to be a passive observer on this one.