What constitutes a ‘good’ firm? GreenBiz readers weigh in

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What’s a “good” firm from a sustainability perspective?

I put that query to the GreenBiz group just a few weeks again once I proffered five key questions that could possibly be used to assist assess an organization’s sustainability dedication and efficiency. The concept was that such questions, whereas admittedly subjective, may reveal the place an organization sits on its sustainability journey almost in addition to the mountain of info and figures that present up in a typical ESG report. Furthermore, the 5 questions could possibly be utilized to corporations throughout a spread of sizes, sectors and possession fashions, not simply the largely giant, publicly traded companies that publish such stories.

As I’d hoped, the column elicited a gratifying response. Largely, I heard what was lacking.

G. Bedell, a self-described investor and retired company lawyer, thought my questions missed out on the chance “to ask companies to spend money on an actual change of angle. I’ve labored for giant and small corporations and know that one in every of their greatest issues is defining and assembly their buyers’ expectations, that are assumed to be profit-oriented.”

Bedell supplied her personal inquiries to ask corporations, together with figuring out the communities the place they’ve amenities, supply uncooked supplies, dump waste or in any other case traverse for enterprise functions.

F. J. “Sonny” Maher, who owns a sustainability consulting agency, supplied different questions. One in all them: “What acquired you curious about sustainability?”

The fact is that each one that is formed by individuals and tradition, and issues can backtrack or disappear shortly within the company turnover whirlwind.

The query, he stated, is essential as a result of “it seeks to know the elemental query of motivation, which normally tells you ways far a corporation will go along with sustainability.” He defined that some corporations get pushed into sustainability and do the minimal required. Consequently, “Sustainability thus generally sits on prime of the group like a poorly becoming and unwelcome hat.”

Bob Langert, who led sustainability at McDonald’s for 25 years earlier than stepping down in 2015 — after which served as a GreenBiz columnist earlier than relinquishing that function in 2020 — had an identical thought, sans the sartorial reference. He supplied this query: “How are you embedding?”

Langert defined: “An organization can reply positively to all 5 [of your] questions this yr, however the actuality is that each one that is formed by individuals and tradition, and issues can backtrack or disappear shortly within the company turnover whirlwind.”

He continued: “Folks come and go. So, the individuals half is tenuous. The sustainability agenda can simply shift to the sidelines. CEO common turnover is six years. Managers change much more usually. Tradition has extra sticking energy. The implicit and express values inside an organization are key to an organization not veering off their sustainability agenda.

“’Embedding’ basically signifies whether or not the corporate is making sustainability sustainable within the group — that it’ll proceed to evolve by the subsequent CEO and administration group, and the subsequent.”

Equally, Victoria Baxter, a senior shopper companion in ESG and sustainability options at Korn Ferry, instructed that it’s all about individuals, not shocking coming from a worldwide organizational consulting agency. She supplied people-related questions that may reside beneath every of my 5 questions. For instance, beneath “What does it know?” the related questions is perhaps:

  • Who’s monitoring this? And the way far throughout the enterprise does this duty span?
  • Who — what number of, what perform — owns the evaluation?
  • Does the board request or is given this data regularly?

Shortcuts and massive shifts

Different readers pointed to their very own evaluation instruments as shortcuts to gauging an organization’s “goodness.”

Nicolas Sauviat, a analysis analyst on the Amsterdam-based World Benchmarking Alliance, supplied that his group’s draft Nature Benchmark, launched earlier this month, “establishes some expectation of an organization’s commitments and efficiency.”

Lucy Rodriguez-Laranjo, managing director at a London-based report label, whose LinkedIn profile says she is “obsessed with surroundings and sustainability,” was succinct: “Simply grow to be a B Corp for a begin. Not to take action belies a scarcity of dedication to what’s an ongoing strategy of enchancment.”

On the finish of the day, it’s nonetheless all about information, wrote Joel Obstfeld, a “distinguished engineer” who’s “a part of an inside innovation group inside Cisco, engaged on sustainability and exploring IT options for inexperienced enhancements.”

Obstfeld has been exploring whether or not corporations are ready to trade data, whether or not distributors are capable of get verifiable data from their suppliers, and whether or not producers have the capability to trace merchandise all through their life cycle.

On the similar time, he questioned “whether or not it’s much less about intercompany information and extra about ‘what you’re really doing’ (intra-company information). May or not it’s that it’s extra essential for enterprise and business to every be making their very own enhancements throughout the board (utilizing information internally) than spending efforts (for which the monetary return could also be little or none) on sharing information (inter-company)?”

He acknowledged that this concept might roil auditing companies which have a vested curiosity in making ready and presenting ESG information for his or her purchasers.

After which there are the three huge shifts that Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO and now a C-suite whisperer on sustainability points, stated corporations must take throughout our current plenary dialog at GreenBiz 22, as my colleague Elsa Wenzel reported: pondering past internet zero; pursuing system change; and changing into “collectively brave.”

Polman, to his credit score, has set a excessive bar for corporations, an crucial given the realities of the local weather disaster and different challenges.

Nonetheless, we’d like a method to assess the non-leaders — that’s, roughly 99.9 % of worldwide enterprise — with out essentially having to parse reams of info and figures, not to mention examine such information with that of different corporations. That was the principal purpose of my five-question train. We want excessive bars, to make sure, but in addition sturdy flooring that helps a suitable baseline of conduct.

Thanks for all of your considerate responses. Keep ‘em coming. Clearly, it is a dialog that’s simply getting going.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Monday morning e-newsletter, GreenBuzz, from which this was reprinted, and hearken to GreenBiz 350, my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy.


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