More Like Mitt? North American Companies don’t like to Tell it All
Are North American companies hiding something? Or do they simply have less to sayabout sustainability than the Europeans?
“Common knowledge” tells us European companies are more advanced regarding sustainably than their America cousins.
While I don’t know how true this is, I can say there seems to be difference in what North American and European companies like to crow about.
Recent research on 144 corporate sustainability press releases from CSRWire.com and CSREurope.org by Jeb Bates at ES Global, found European companies (44%) focused on governance and sustainability reporting. Community issues ranked second (27%) and pure environmental issues were third (16%). Reporting on both labor and human rights are less than 10%.
According to Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database (sample size 10,897) between 1999 and 2012 45% of all sustainability reports filed came from European companies/ organizations and just 15 % from North America.
For 2010 (sample size 2,834) 41% filed came from European companies/orgs and 16% from North American companies/orgs.
American companies, by contrast, reported more on Environmental issues (36%) with Community pulling second (26%), while governance was (23%). Both Labor and Human Rights press releases were under 10%.
Letting it All Hang Out
Findings are not overly scientific – neither the sample size is large enough nor, given the nature of the beast, is the categorization method exactingly precise (e.g., what is the difference say between a sustainable and an environmental activity?), but the results are indicative of who is talking about what.
And it is telling that European firms were found to be far more interested in letting all their sustainability practice hang out through governance and sustainability reporting.
Do they have less to hide? More to talk about? Or do they simply believe in more transparency. Other than this, and the Environment, the differences are not that notable. Community, Labor, and Human Rights all clock in at about the same speed on both continents.
Sustainability then Profits or Profits then Sustainability
What might cause the difference in reporting on Environment? Well, and again, we can only infer from the data…. perhaps, the savings offered by the Big Four (water, energy, carbon, and resource use) is more attractive than other elements of sustainability which by their very nature can be more complex, controversial and often less immediately rewarding.
(If this is true, sustainability strategy in NA is best driven by profit first versus a value-first proposition in Europe, or the classic Cowboy/girl versus Gentlemens’/womens’ club approach).
Wal-Mart sustainability interests pretty much mirrors the data findings for North America: strong focus on savings through environmental initiatives, community work (cynics would say paving the way for new store openings) and, reportedly, less than perfect attention to human rights (see http://bit.ly/IzUGdc for more on Wal-Mart and its alleged hanky-panky in Mexico).
Or it could be Europeans are just more Sophisticated
As Bates points out, however, it just may be North American companies report less on human rights or labor issues because of skeletons in the closet and/or because of the generally confrontational (read litigious) nature of these elements of sustainability.
Unlike some leading sustainability firms that are North American, it would seem as a group, they are more like Mitt (Romney), preferring not to expose their sustainability assets and decision making grist to public scrutiny all at once.