FPRA 2010 Annual Conference: Breakout 4C, Effective Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting – Dr. Mary Ann Ferguson

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In this session, Dr. Ferguson presented the results of research on how corporations with excellent reputations for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability effectively report on their CSR programs.  In her research on CSR, Dr. Ferguson took a close look at the Forbes list of 20 Most Responsible Companies, including their reports, activities and results.  Many of those companies were featured in today’s discussion.

So what is the definition of social responsibility, also referred to as sustainability?  It is an attitude of good citizenship. Organizations prosper as communities prosper.  Good CSR requires an attitude of responsibility to all stakeholders.  Sustainability includes environmental, economic and social aspects – what some call the triple bottom line of social responsibility.  The Dover Corporation is an example of a company expressing sustainability in this way.
CSR is also about partnerships.  Many companies successfully partner and collaborate with other organizations.  Home Depot is using the notion of partnership very effectively through their Team Depot employee program.  When seeking out partnerships, be sure to choose partners with expertise, and measure the effectiveness of your partnerships with specific metrics.

Attributes of Effective CSR Communications

  • A mission or values statement should communicate the culture like Integrys does on their web site. Lockheed Martin also represents their corporate culture and values online.
  • World view of stakeholders and engagement. Stakeholders are not just local – they are often national and even global. Xerox takes a global citizenship view.  There’s also an attitude of stakeholder engagement at Oxy.
  • Sustainability is very broadly defined in most of these reports. It includes environment, economic, employee and social aspects.
  • Accountability. Gap Inc’s site supplies specific information about results achieved.
  • Environmental Citizenship is a very big part of the Integrys CSR program, including discussion of vision, principles and very specific information about their efforts.
  • Community Involvement. Some have called this the virtuous cycle. Gap Inc. points out its many assets besides cash that have a positive impact, including employees.
  • Diversity is also a foundation of CSR.
  • Governance and ethics/integrity provide credibility. There should be a good fit between what your company does, its ethical reputation and its CSR activities.
  • Transparency with working hyperlinks, and up-to-date reporting is critical when involved in a CSR program. Sprint provides a corporate responsibility statement on their corporate web site; however, their accounts are outdated (2007), undermining the credibility of their CSR message.

Some Trends in CSR Reporting

  • Evaluation component is very important.  Many companies hire independent, outside panels on an annual basis to evaluate their CSR.
  • There is no clear trend toward either integrated or targeted reports. Pepsico’s web site discusses delivering a sustainable progress; environmental, human, talent sustainability, as well as sourcing, foundation, contributions and reporting.
  • Easy access or registration. Some companies make web site viewers register to obtain information or make it difficult to find the CSR report page on their web site, and have outdated reports – for example, Staples.
  • GRI framework. The UN Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has developed a set of standards for reporting. Xerox is one of the companies that has adopted these very specific, uniform standards.
  • Printed reports vs. PDFs. Saving paper, many corporations are starting to offer downloadable PDFs through their web site.
  • Digital Reports. Kimberly Clark showcases CSR on their web site and includes a digital video report.
  • Media Libraries. Oxy includes many videos related to their CSR.
  • Social Media, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. Pepsico incorporates “the latest tweets on sustainability” and a YouTube video on their site.

The Future of CSR

According to Dr. Ferguson, the future of CSR includes clearly identifiable goals, transparency in performance metrics, and awards and recognitions for accountability. For example, Colgate-Palmolive publishes a list of awards along with their initiatives and results.

More companies will begin using GRI or another standard for reporting, as well as external assessment panels with fully published reports for the greatest transparency possible. Exxon Mobil’s report even includes panelists profiles. The UN Global Compact has a new committee to develop globally consistent reporting standards called the International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC).

Dr. Ferguson also provided two helpful links for companies exploring CSR: www.csrpedia.com – a categorized listing of about 600 companies with CSR reports; and www.delicious.com/csrawards – identifies CSR awards and criteria.

Contact information:
Mary Ann Ferguson, Ph.D.
University of Florida
Department of Public Relations
352-392-6660
maferguson@jou.ufl.edu

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