A New Report on Sustainability Reports

Seems like, over the last few months particularly, company sustainability reports are all over my news feeds. Businesses in the US and abroad have clearly grasped the idea of showing their commitment to people, planet and profit, but I often wondered how much of this represented real, substantive change, and how much was pure greenwash. Today, consulting firm SustainAbility released Tomorrow’s Value, its “fourth international benchmark of corporate sustainability reporting.” The report, created in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Standard & Poors, essentially ranks and analyzes corporate sustainability reports on how well they represent what a company is actually doing. Their findings show that, despite notorious coporate cranks on environmental issues, many major corporations are recognizing opportunity in not simply managing risks and complying with regulations, but in taking on bigger environmental challenges, and in doing business more transparently. Among the major conclusions:

  • The pack of new entrants storming up our 50 Leaders chart, suggesting that the appetite for innovation in reporting continues to grow.
  • Value creation is increasingly surfacing as a theme in reports and their titles, as in the 2005 Philips report Creating Value.
  • Our top-scoring company defines the “third generation”Β’ business case as focusing on the marketplace, solutions and support for competitive bids.
  • Leading corporate reporters are now expanding their coverage to embrace emerging economy issues, but they are being outflanked by a small but growing number of non-OECD companies which have ambitions to develop powerful brand positions as they break into international markets.
  • As a result, companies seen to be overly focused on accountability and risk could find themselves marked down as laggards at a time when mainstream markets are switching on to challenges like climate change and carbon trading.

If these general statements weren’t encouraging enough, guess which US company finished highest in the rankings? Nike. Yep, the shoe maker that activist and social responsibility NGOs loved to hate (with good reason) ten years ago is now leading the pack in transparency for its social and environmental impact. SustainAbility founder and “Chief Entrepreneur” John Elkington noted, “Similar to the other top reporters, Nike is embracing the idea that sustainability and reporting are about far more than mitigating risk and appeasing stakeholders, they are the very basis for entrepreneurship inside their company that will lead to strategic innovations and the building of new markets yet to come.” Now, that’s good news! And if Nike can do it, other companies will find less patience from shareholders and the public with excuses…

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