As the modern consumer and regulator place greater emphasis on good sustainable practice, corporate social responsibility is no longer just a philanthropic exercise for companies. It is now an area of intensive scrutiny and reporting from a wide range of actors and stakeholders, and an ever-growing area of business opportunity.
In recognition of this, companies striving to be top of the game in sustainable practice have for some time reported on their CSR and sustainability practice, promoting transparency and encouraging sector development. In light of this Collective Responsibility has conducted analysis on the top 25 most sustainable global companies (as ranked by Corporate Knights, 2015) reporting from 2010 – 2014, to assess a range of factors from style and nature of reporting to sustainable developments and trends.
Here we provide a short insight into the research, outlining 5 areas of development within the reports that provide detail into the changing emphasis within the industry.
Greater focus on supply chain
Supply chains are now an area of intensive scrutiny and companies are taking great care in ensuring best practice within them. Coupled with stricter internal regulation on suppliers more so they are required to join industry-specific associations, such as Carbon Disclosure Projects, Fair Labour Trade etc. invoking further levels of regulation within. Self-assessed reporting within supply chain management has been replaced by audits and external assessment, placing emphasis on a lack of bias in reporting.
Away from regulations, promotion of sector-wide collaboration to aid knowledge exchange on the social and environmental issues of the supply chain has developed and training programs on the issues have shown greater internal impetus for companies to tackle the issues. These collaborative expansions have been accompanied by innovative solutions, such as BT groups IDEA exchange problems and BMW supplier innovation awards, where actors were invited to display best practice in the industry as an example to collaborative partners.
Promoting gender equality internally and externally
As is the case in a wide range of companies and organizations, those striving for better sustainable are also looking deeply into the development of greater gender equality in the workplace. Much of the top 25 companies have added to their goals and looking to develop female equality at the workplace, female employment for executive roles and female (leadership) training. This includes Biogens, specifically designed leadership program that targets high potential women. Leadership is a concentrated area of development but all along the value chain companies are implementing plans to develop female roles and provide greater empowerment.
Expanding sustainability commitments
Over the course of the reports, it is clear that companies are placing emphasis on the expansion of their communities to engage both their workforce and customers. Employee engagement has come through training and courses to increase awareness and the importance of good practice. On a consumer level, the focus has been on consumer empowerment, encouraging individuals to take independent decision to be healthier and act in a more socially minded, sustainable way. This has developed with transparency at the core, both to the consumer and workforce, and greater disclosure of product’s social and environmental profile is a future target of many.
Employee wellbeing and work-life balance
Better working environments can lead to high levels of employee satisfaction, more efficient and engaged staffing and ultimately greater retention rates. The attitude towards work and the environment is changing and pioneered by the tech companies more traditional companies are starting to adopt strategies to develop employee wellbeing These have come through greater working flexibility and the option of mobile working, whilst advocating the environmental (GHG emission and energy), social (family time) and mental benefits (more balanced life, autonomy and freedom).
Investment in sustainable innovation
Given the growing levels of opportunity within the sustainable sphere, there has been a noticeable shift in the company’s commitments to sustainable investment. Many of the companies have begun to think more long-term and are dedicating greater investment funds towards innovative and sustainable solutions, products and materials. Taking action to look for potential areas of innovation while anticipating future trends and risks, rather than reactively solving issues that are already present has been a major trend in the recent reporting among the majority of the companies.
Some, whilst innovating internally, are also seeking opportunity outside of their framework, investing in innovative green start-ups, low carbons sectors and in the case of Unilever, launching a new Sustainable Business Venture Fund with €50 million allocated to investment.
Looking at the above, these are largely obvious. Firms are working hard to press forward on what goes on within their 4 walls, that is tangible to their organizations, and that they can control and quantify. But, are seeking out ways to leverage hot topics to identify/ enter into new market opportunities.
Processing and understanding the trends within companies sustainability report can provide vital information into a companies culture and future goals. Here we have outline one small area of insight that the reports provide. This coupled with interviews with executives on the topic of employee engagement and sustainability makes up an area of analysis on sustainable reporting, company adoption and its success within companies both within and outside of China.