KPMG: U.S. companies “scratching the surface” in Corporate Responsibility reporting.

2 12 2011

In its 18th year of tracking the reporting of Corporate Responsibility, KPMG has issued its latest annual CR Reporting survey.  KPMG analyzed the reports of 3400 companies in 34 different countries.  Among the findings, companies based in the U.S. are lagging behind other regions of the world in terms of the walking the walk vs. talking the talk on corporate responsibility.

According to KPMG, “Companies that can be seen as ‘Scratching the Surface’ are those that have the highest risk of failing to deliver on the promises they make in their CR report and/or targets they have set. These companies have chosen to focus more heavily on communicating their CR achievements effectively by choosing multiple channels and integrating CR in the regular annual reporting without focusing equally on the CR systems and processes. As a result, they may reach their audiences more effectively than the group that ‘is getting it right.’ However, they could also risk increasing feedback and pressure from their stakeholders, including their investors.”

Among other interesting insights and facts in the report include:

  • Of the 250 largest global companies, fully 95 percent now report on their CR activities. This represents a jump of more than 14 percent over the 2008 survey.
  • With almost half of the largest companies already demonstrating financial gains from their CR initiatives, and with the increasing importance of innovation and learning as key drivers for reporting, it is clear that CR has moved from being a moral imperative to a critical business issue.
  • Companies that continue to utilize only one channel of communication (such as an annual report) for their CR reporting will quickly find that they are losing ground to competitors who offer their data across multiple forms of media that appeal to a wider variety of stakeholder groups. However, the design of the specific systems and processes to facilitate this level of communication and specificity may prove complex for many organizations.

Download a copy of the KPMG Survey here.





The Enlightened Trend: Shared Value vs. Shareholder Value.

1 12 2011

93% of CEOs believe sustainability issues will be key to business success in the future.  The concept of creating shared value vs. shareholder value is beginning to penetrate the consciousness of many corporate boardrooms. This new report from FSG – the nonprofit consulting firm – gives best in class examples of social engagement strategies where corporate and social issues are aligned.

According to FSG, “the most advanced companies have begun to look at social engagement through a different lens entirely.  Rather than seeing business and society in opposition, they recognize the enormous potential of business to contribute to social progress.  At the same time, they understand that firms depend on healthy and well-functioning societies to thrive.  Such companies seek to create “shared value” – incorporating social issues into their core business strategies to benefit both society and their own long-term competitiveness.”

Says Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter, “What’s happening now is really a redefinition of the boundaries of capitalism.  Creating shared value is the next stage of evolution in the sophistication of the capitalist model.”

The report was sponsored by HP and features examples from global business leaders committed to creating shared value, including Alcoa, GE, Cisco, and Nestle among others.

You can download a pdf of the report here.

(Figure from FSG)





Consumer Environmental Behaviors Have Shifted For Good.

30 11 2011

In a recent survey revisiting consumer attitudes toward environmental issues vs. 20 years ago, GfK Roper and S.C. Johnson demonstrate how much progress has been made.

 

The research study reports that 73 percent say they know a lot or a fair amount about environmental issues and problems, up from 50 percent earlier. Compared to 20 years ago, twice as many Americans are taking proactive steps to help the environment. Today, 58 percent of Americans recycle, 29 percent buy green products regularly and 18 percent commute in an environmentally friendly manner.

And the impact can be dramatic.  According to Kelly M. Semrau, Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs, Communication and Sustainability at SC Johnson, “Simply recycling one aluminum soda can yields enough energy to power my laptop for five hours or light up my office for 20 hours using a 60-watt energy-saving light bulb. These individual steps are made possible because individuals have a desire to modify their behavior, but also because businesses and governments have taken a leadership role in facilitating these changes by providing the right tools, products and processes.”

 

Three-in-four respondents agree that “a manufacturer that reduces the environmental impact of its production process and products is making a smart business decision.” Those are much higher marks than Americans gave business in 1990. Individuals place themselves higher at 38 percent and rank businesses lower at 29 percent when asked who should take the lead in addressing environmental problems and issues.

Said Semrau, “We all have a role to play to protect our earth, and 75 percent of American consumers say they feel good when taking steps to help the environment. That’s huge. Through increased environmental knowledge and with the right products and tools, we can all appeal to that sentiment to make smarter choices for a greener lifestyle.”

Green shopping photo via Shutterstock.





Don’t Buy This Jacket: Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative

29 11 2011

In a daring and unprecedented move, the long respected Patagonia brand decries consumerism run amok and pledges to improve its own sustainability performance and asks for the same commitment from its customers.  

For a brand inspired by and dependent on the environment, Patagonia is asking customers to pledge to reduce the products they buy and only buy what they need.  It also is asking consumers to repair what’s broken, pass the product onto someone else, and keep it out of landfills or incinerators.

In exchange for the pledge, Patagonia’s pledge is to make products that last a long time, help repair gear that needs it, find home for products you no longer need and will take back Patagonia products that are worn out.

In advertising placed on Black Friday in The New York Times and on-line on Cyber Monday, Patagonia calls itself on the carpet for the environmental impact of the products they manufacture.

“The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing,” the ad reads. “Consider the R2 Jacket shown, one of our best sellers. To make it required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60% recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds its weight in waste.

“And this is a 60% recycled polyester jacket, knit and sewn to a high standard; it is exceptionally durable, so you won’t have to replace it as often. And when it comes to the end of its useful life we’ll take it back to recycle into a product of equal value. But, as is true of all the things we can make and you can buy, this jacket comes with an environmental cost higher than its price.”

The ad concludes: “There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything. Go to patagonia.com/CommonThreads, take the Common Threads Initiative pledge and join us in the fifth R, to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.”

Cheers to Patagonia for honest and authentic communication and for its call for balance and collaboration in a world of too much self-interest and scary levels of divisiveness.

This is world class sustainable branding.

Read more about the campaign on Patagonia’s blog





GREENPEACE: HP Leads Greener Electronics Race. Research in Motion in the cellar.

17 11 2011

In releasing its latest guide to Greener Electronics, Greenpeace has ranked 15 leading technology companies and how they are performing on key measures around sustainability.  The guide is intended to help consumers make better informed decisions when purchasing technology products and help businesses evaluate the performance of their technology vendors in helping them achieve their own sustainability objectives.

Download the Greenpeace Guide here

The comprehensive analysis will help consumers understand the impact of specific products, as well as the sustainability performance of the overall corporation. New criteria added to this edition of the Guide are based on the creation of truly sustainable electronics industry, Greenpeace said, and include a holistic examination of key supply chain issues.

“Right now, HP takes the top spot because it is scoring strongly by measuring and reducing carbon emissions from its supply chain, reducing its own emissions and advocating for strong climate legislation. However all companies we included in the Guide have an opportunity to show more leadership in reducing their climate impact”, Tom Dowdall of Greenpeace said in a statement.

Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) is ranked for the first time and scored well on conflict minerals and sustainable paper policy. But the company ranked bottom of the table because it needs to improve reporting and disclosure of its environmental performance, Greenpeace said.  It is interesting to note that failure to communicate progress – the opposite of the idea of sustainable branding – was a key factor in RIM receiving such a low ranking.





Congrats Honest Tea. Will report sustainability progress on Tumblr.

10 11 2011

Honest Tea’s decision to expand to this new communication channel reflects a trend among sustainable brands to find the most effective way to leverage corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting to increase dialogue and engagement with consumers.

The organic bottled tea company released the second edition of its annual Mission Report in combination with a new Tumblr site that will update regularly with posts about the company’s progress on social and environmental initiatives.

Honest Tea released a digital version of the report, which is becoming standard practice, and some companies – led by outdoor companyPatagonia’s example – are building entire microsites dedicated to tracking the sustainability of products and services. Others are choosing to incorporate CSR reporting into the traditional annual report, as Clorox did this year, indicating that sustainability performance is reaching the same level of importance as other corporate disclosures.

Honest Tea’s report, called Keeping It Honest, details the company’s initiatives related to products, packaging, people and partners. It highlights achievements, such as the conversion of all teas to Fair Trade Certified, the company’s first annual service day, and the launch of a new product, Honest CocoaNova.

The report also addresses sustainability challenges, such as packaging, providing consumers with an introspective look at how the company strives to scale a mission-driven business.

Acquired by Coca-Cola earlier this year, Honest Tea also will utilize its Facebook page to host a Keeping It Honest tab, during Honest’s “Mission Month”, where Honest fans can choose a personal mission each week, creating their own agenda for change, the company says.

Go to the Keeping it HONEST site here.

Since Honest Tea was founded in Bethesda, Maryland in 1998, the company has sustained an impressive double-digit annual growth rate. The company was listed as one of PlanetGreen.com’s Top 7 Green Corporations of 2010. It also received Greenopia.com’s coveted 4-Leaf Rating as “the greenest beverage company” for the third year in a row and was recently ranked by The Huffington Post as one of the leading “8 Revolutionary Socially Responsible Companies.”



Original article published at Sustainable Brands Weekly





Havas Media: Only 20% of global brands contribute to a sense of wellbeing and quality of life.

8 11 2011

In releasing their latest results, Havas Media underscores how few brands are contributing meaningful experiences to people – with most people saying they would not care if 70% of brands ceased to exist.

In a press release, Sara de Dios, Global Head of Meaningful Brands at Havas Media said.  “We believe that it is likely that the next generation of brands will flourish in emerging economies – they can, from the onset, create the context that promotes the growth of meaningful brands. Companies and brands operating in emerging economies can become active in transforming their roles; they are creating new lifestyles for millions of people and their communities while contributing to the overall progress of their societies. This will continue in the future with a growing middle class emerging within these markets.”

This innovative global undertaking is able, for the first time, to connect brands with our quality of life and wellbeing. It does this by measuring the perceived impact of brands on our personal wellbeing – their influence on factors such as our health, fitness, happiness, values, social relationships, financial security, lifestyles and habits – and our collective wellbeing, that is, how brands help to improve communities, societies and the environment.

The analysis includes a measurement called The Meaningful Brand Index (MBi) that uses consumer perception to compare and track the impact brands have on our lives. Based on the views of 50,000 people in 14 countries, the results show a direct relationship between a brand’s MBi score and the level of consumer attachment. That is, the greater the contribution the brand has to our wellbeing – measured by the value it creates for individuals, communities and the environment – the larger role it will have in people’s lives and the more meaningful it becomes.

Meaningful Brand Index results:

Ikea, Google, Nestlé, Danone, Leroy Merlin, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Unilever and Bimbo are the top 10 global brands. These brands systematically improve our personal and collective wellbeing and are rewarded by stronger brand equity and attachment. Furthermore, the results show that we really care that these brands exist as we see that they are making a significant contribution to our lives and communities. Havas Media argues that many of the top 20 brands are helping us create a new lifestyle that’s more consistent with today’s challenges and consumer trends.

Top 20 global brands according to Havas Media’s Meaningful Brand Index:

  1. Ikea
  2. Google
  3. Nestlé
  4. Danone
  5. Leroy Merlin
  6. Samsung
  7. Microsoft
  8. Sony
  9. Unilever
  10. Bimbo
  11. LG
  12. Philips
  13. Apple
  14. P&G
  15. Mars
  16. Volkswagen
  17. L’Oreal
  18. Wal-Mart
  19. Carrefour
  20. Coca-Cola

Detailed analysis on what makes each brand meaningful

Meaningful Brands also explains what makes things meaningful to us as consumers when it comes to specific brands and sectors. For instance, 65% registered a very strong attachment to Coca-Cola worldwide. However, only 35% think the brand improves our quality of life. In fact, some consumers worldwide think it is contributing negatively to our lives, mostly due to health concerns. However, Coca-Cola has, as with many other brands in the beverage sector, been a pioneer in connecting its brand to other personal issues such as happiness and positivity which has enabled it to successfully build a positive link to our emotional wellbeing.

Sector trends

When looking into brands’ impact on our sense of collective wellbeing (communities/ societies/environment), there is a general improvement. This is the case with the automotive and public transport sectors, driven by greater environmental and product innovation (such as the hybrid and electric cars and energy efficiency). Compared to last year, brands such as Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota and Peugeot have, according to consumers, improved the most in this area.

Personal and individual wellbeing

When it comes to our expectations of improving our personal wellbeing and quality of life, the results are not so good. A staggering 80% of brands across 14 countries are underperforming. This reveals a huge opportunity for brands. To some extent this is being realised by brands in sectors such as FMCG, retail, IT and consumer electronics. According to consumers, most brands in the financial, utilities and telecommunications sectors, underperform in helping us improve our daily lives and individual wellbeing.

Despite these trends, the analysis shows that some brands have been able to break free from these industry limitations. There are brands with exceptionally high MBi scores in low scoring industries that are learning to reconnect with consumers. This is the case for Fidelity Investments in the USA, the energy brand Petrobras in Brazil, EDF in France and the telco brands 02 in the UK and Free in France. All of these register significantly higher than average MBi scores for both their sectors and countries.

Worldwide and regional comparisons:

The analysis suggests that the next generation of brands will come from emerging economies. People in fast growing economies, such as Asian and Latin American markets, record a stronger and healthier relationship with brands. The proportion of brands making a notable positive contribution to our lives increases to around 30% in Latin America, compared to 8% in European markets, where people tend to be more sceptical and less engaged with brands. In the US it’s 5%.

By contrast, the situation in developed economies is the opposite. Brands in these regions are no longer seen to improve people’s quality of life. There is an aging and increasingly poorer middle class who are demanding that brands help them to lead and create new lifestyles that fit in to their new expectations and values. In order to survive, these brands must re evaluate their definitions of success and take up the challenge to make meaningful contributions to these people’s lives.”

Hernan Sanchez Neira, CEO Havas Media Intelligence, adds:
“It’s clear from our analysis that we need to take a new look at the relationship between brands and consumers. Nowadays we want so much more from brands than just promises or stories. Brands that manage to create better relationships dominate the marketplace.”

Meaningful Brands helps us to develop this type of relationship by understanding exactly what people expect from brands. It also helps us track how successful companies are responding to these needs by understanding how these companies are contributing to our wellbeing, both as citizens and individuals, and how they communicate these values to us. It also shows us that there’s a big business opportunity for brands who are able to satisfy consumers by creating wellbeing in the context of their new values, expectations and local market realities.”

Consumer sentiment continues to shift:

  • For the 4th year running consumer expectations of companies’ responsible behaviour continues to rise
  • Nearly 85% of consumers worldwide expect companies to become actively involved in solving these issues (an increase of 15% from 2010)
  • Those prepared to reward responsible companies by choosing to buy their products is up 11% from last year to more than half of all consumers (51%)
  • Those who would pay a 10% premium for a product produced in a responsible way is up once again – from 44% last year to 53% in 2011
  • The percentage of us who would punish irresponsible companies has also increased to 44% (from 36% in 2010)
  • Only 28% of consumers worldwide think that companies today are working hard enough to solve our social and environmental challenges.
  • Only 20% trust companies when they communicate about their social/environmental commitments and initiatives

About the research:

The research was carried out from March to June 2011 across 14 markets – France, Spain, UK, Germany, Italy, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, China, Japan and India. The research took into account the views of 50,000 consumers via online panels.

About Havas Media

Havas Media is the global media network of Havas.

Havas Media represents one of the world’s fastest growing media networks and its agencies have grown from 10 markets in 1999 to 119 markets in 2011.

Havas Media services its clients through a portfolio of specialist global networks and agencies. The group is organised to maximise local market dynamics whilst leveraging the extensive global insight and strategic support within Havas Media. The range of companies within Havas Media include: MPG (Havas Media’s global media network), Arena Media (Havas Media’s network for tailor-made communication services), Havas Digital (Havas Media’s global interactive network) and Havas Sports & Entertainment (Havas Media’s global sports and entertainment communication network).

Further information can be found at www.havasmedia.com or follow us on twitter @HavasMedia





Global Opportunity: Tell It How It Is – according to Cone Echo Research

18 10 2011

In its newly released global research report, Cone Echo Research highlight the opportunity for business to build a stronger relationship with consumers by meeting their expectations that business will address social and environmental issues through their operations, their products and services and their unique expertise.  

The trend is global as evidenced by the results in ten countries and the 10,000 people who were surveyed.  And not surprisingly, communication is critical in bridging the gap between perception and reality.

  • 93% of consumers say they want to know what companies are doing.
  • 91% of people say they want to be heard as well.

This means that reciprocal communication is more than an expectation, its essential in building a strong connection with consumers.  And critical to overcoming the confusion, skepticism and even cynicism among consumers.  

  • 89% of consumers globally believe companies share only the positive information about their efforts, while withholding the negative.
  • 71% are confused by the messages companies use to talk about their efforts and impacts.
  • 61% of consumers believe a company is telling the truth about its social and environmental efforts and impacts, but this varies widely by nationality.

Trust is more complex.

The more trusting a country’s consumers are in business, the more confused they are by a company’s messages. These consumers are putting great faith in the words of business, even though they don’t necessarily understand the messages themselves. In return, they don’t ask for perfection, simply the truth. Nearly nine-in-10 (88%) say it’s ok if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts. This permission presents an opportunity for companies to speak candidly about tough CR issues to build trust.

Follow this link to access the Global CR Study





Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability from Niche to Normal

21 04 2011

Ogilvy Earth issues an important report on moving sustainability for niche to normal.

The report has some interesting insights into how marketers are creating more confusion and causing more harm than good in terms of getting people to adopt sustainable products into their everyday lifestyles.  To quote Oglivy Earth:

Topline: We’ve been getting the message all wrong

Our research shows that when it comes to motivating the American Mainstream, marketers, governments, and NGOs have been approaching messaging and marketing around sustainability all wrong. Indeed much of what we’ve been doing has actually been cementing the Green Gap by making green behavior too difficult and costly from a practical, financial, and social standpoint.

The study found that 82% of Americans have good green intentions but only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling these intentions, putting 66% firmly in what we’re calling the Middle Green.

Other highlights from the report.

  •  82% of our respondents said going green is “more feminine than masculine.” No wonder then that men clustered to the left, less- green side of our continuum while the greener, right side was dominated by women.
  • 80% of Americans would rather cure cancer than fix the environment.
  • 73% percent of Americans opted for the known, mainstream brand. A legacy of inferior performance prevents consumers from taking the leap to an unknown, eco brand.
Kudos to Ogilvy Earth for helping us better understand the barriers we need to overcome to move green to the mainstream.

Read the executive summary here.





Props To Starbucks: Free Coffee In Your Travel Mug On Earth Day.

18 04 2011

To celebrate Earth Day, Starbucks is offering free coffee to everyone who chooses to get their coffee in a travel mug vs. the paper cup.  A great example of smart sustainable branding.





Brilliant Work: The Sustainability & Branding Survey

7 04 2011

“If you are striving to be more sustainable, your actions need to demonstrate that in everything you do,

which means new ways of thinking about branding.”

Kudos to the Sustainable Branding Collaborative for their new research report surveying innovators and early adopters in the sustainable business environment.  Some of the key interesting findings that stand out of the work include:

  • 63% say brand and 59% say sustainability is of primary importance to their organizations success.
  • 73% say sustainability investments yield positive returns.
  • 47% advise firms that are branding more sustainable products to “walk their talk”.

You can download a summary of their survey here.

The Sustainability & Branding Survey






Edelman Report: 90% of UK Consumers believe brands should support society as well as business.

27 03 2011

Recent research from Edelman Worldwide shows that two thirds of UK consumers think brands spend too much on advertising and should invest more in social causes and promoting them through their advertising.

Nine out of 10 consumers believe that brands need to place at least the same weight on society’s interests as those of business and do more than just give money to good causes.

The report claims that more than 50% of consumers say “purpose” is more important than design, innovation or brand loyalty as a purchase trigger, when quality and price are the same.

Nearly two-thirds of UK consumers say that they will buy and recommend products and services from companies that support a good cause.

Carol Cone, managing director of brand & corporate citizenship at Edelman, says: “Cause related-marketing, as we know it, is dead. It is no longer enough to slap a ribbon on a product. Consumers seek deeper involvement in social issues and expect brands and companies to provide various means of engagement. We call this the rise of the ’citizen consumer’.”

Key findings from the report

  • 60% believe brands should promote good causes through their advertising to help raise public awareness.
  • 58% believe brands spend too much advertising or marketing and they should put more money into some good cause or social purpose.
  • 54% believe brands should share a portion of their advertising space with organisations that support good causes.
  • 57% feel that it is no longer enough for companies to simply give money away to good causes; they need to integrate them into their day-to-day business.
  • 56% have more trust in a brand that is ethically and socially responsible.




Cone Research: The Green Gap Persists.

25 03 2011

In its third Green Gap Study, Cone research continues to document the confusion that reigns over environmental messages in the marketplace.

Consumers Seeking Clarity

A majority of consumers are distrustful of companies’ environmental claims (57%) and are overwhelmed by the amount of environmental messages in the marketplace (51%). Given this confusion, it’s understandable that consumers are somewhat wary of general claims alone:

  • 59% say it is only acceptable for marketers to use general environmental claims when they are backed up with additional detail and explanation.
  • 23% say vague environmental claims should never be used.
  • 79% want detailed information readily accessible on product packaging.
  • 75% wish companies would do a better job helping them understand the environmental terms they use.

Consumers are clearly seeking information, but fortunately, they do not expect companies to be saints. A full three-quarters (75%) say it is okay if a company is not environmentally perfect – as long as it is honest and transparent about its efforts.

At the same time, most Americans are willing to punish a company for using misleading claims. Of the 71 percent who will stop buying the product if they feel misled by an environmental claim, more than a third (37%) will go so far as to boycott the company’s products entirely, according to the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker.

“It’s telling that three years after Cone first conducted the Green Gap survey, not much has changed,” saysJonathan YohannanCone’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility. “Consumers continue to be confused about environmental claims, often without realizing it. This creates a huge risk for consumer backlash. To overcome this gap between environmental messaging and consumer perception, companies need to provide detailed information in-line with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines in a place where consumers are making purchase decisions.”

Consumer Perception and Environmental Reality Not Always Aligned
As corporate marketers and regulators alike evaluate how to communicate environmental commitments and avoid greenwashing, the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker tested which of three common marketing approaches was most influential in consumer purchase decisions. Consumers were asked to “purchase” the most environmentally responsible of three generic cleaning products based on an isolated marketing approach – a certification, a vague environmental claim or an environmental image.

  • Certification: By far the most influential purchase driver – 51 percent selected the product bearing a mock certification. What’s more telling is that more than half of respondents (51%) believed the certification meant this product was reviewed and verified by a credible third party.
  • Claim: Thirty percent of respondents chose the product with a vague “made with natural ingredients” claim.
  • Imagery: Environmental imagery was the least influential purchase driver, yet one-in-five (19%) still chose this product without any other indication it was better for the environment. Some even believed the environmental imagery indicated this product is safe for the environment (14%).

Deception Breeds Consumer Backlash
Testing the certification, claim or image on-pack indicated each drove consumer perceptions that the products themselves did not necessarily live up to. This disconnect is a significant threat for companies because consumers who feel misled by an environmental claim may punish the brand. They will:

  • Stop Buying: 71 percent will stop buying the product; 37 of these will boycott the company’s products altogether.
  • Do Nothing: Only 11 percent will continue buying the product.

“As Americans continue to consider environmental claims when shopping, companies must be transparent to build trust – or face the consequences,” says Yohannan. “Puffery and generic claims alone aren’t going to cut it. Companies will be held accountable to ensure the claims are not only accurate, but also aligned with consumer perceptions.”





American People to Corporate America: We’d Vote You Out.

30 12 2010

In a new survey issued by StrategyOne, 82% of American’s gave a “C grade or lower” on how corporate America did in 2010, with 40% of Americans assigning Corporate America a “D” or an “F”.

The wake up call is that Americans are extremely frustrated and dissatisfied with the behavior of companies in America.  Quite literally, if the leadership of American companies were politicians, there would be a landslide election of the American people voting them out of their corner offices.

“Let’s be clear, Americans are not dreaming up some far out vision of utopia,” said said Bradley Honan, senior vice president of StrategyOne. “Instead they are being realistic that Corporate America should – and indeed must – engage in important issues of the day where they can make a demonstrably positive difference.  That means the economy and jobs for starters, but also ensuring their products are safe and not harmful to use, and that they simply conduct their day to day business activities in an honest, ethical, and transparent manner.”

Other interesting facts undercovered in the StrategyOne survey included:

  • 88% of consumers said it was extremely or very important that companies help get the economy back on track in 2011.
  • 88% said it was extremely or very important to conduct business in an ethical manner in 2011, and 87% said it was a top priority to do business in an honest and moral way.
  • 85% of consumers thought it was extremely or very important for companies in 2011 to deliver high quality products and services;
  • 84% of Americans thought companies needed to demonstrate good governance in 2011.
  • 82% said it was a top priority for companies to make fewer mistakes and errors in 2011.

Let’s hope company leaders make some serious New Year’s resolutions to improve their performance and more effectively communicate with the public to show how they are being more responsbile, sustainable and ethical.  That is the only way to reduce the “trust gap”.  And it is important for corporate leaders to recognize—once and for all—that their futures are dependent on their customers….who happen to be the American people, at the end of the day.

StrategyOne Survey Methodology:

StrategyOne conducted 1,081 online interviews among a representative sampling of Americans between December 6 and 8, 2010.





Sustainability Making Business Smarter, More Competitive and More Profitable.

16 12 2010

A new report commissioned by KPMG and The Economist Intelligence Group shows that global corporate business executives are seeing positive—and potentially surprising – business benefits from their sustainability initiatives.  More than half of those surveyed represented C-Suite executives.  This week’s report is a preview of a major research paper coming from KPMG early next year.

  • 62% of company’s now claim to have a strategy for sustainability, up from just over half in early 2008.
  • 44% of business executives believe that sustainability is and will continue to be a source of innovation.
  • 39% of executives see sustainability as a source of revenue growth.
  • 41% see sustainability as a driver for brand enhancement.

Some of the other benefits cited by executives from sustainability initiatives include happier employees, better relationships with clients and suppliers, cost reduction, access to new markets, new product and service offerings and improved investor awareness.

But once again there is a gap between reality and perception, with many companies still not effectively communicating sustainability progress to investors and other stakeholders.

And the vast majority of survey respondants claim they viewed sustainability reporting as “just PR.”

It is time for business to back up their actions with transparent and authentic communication to translate their efforts into positive external perceptions and brand reputation enhancement.  The communication challenge is to be  real, believable, trusted and for the messages to be served up in digestible, understandable and emotionally inspiring ways.  And that friends, is the essence of great branding and the huge opportunity: creating responsible brands that prosper in the new age of sustainability.

Download the KMPG Research Report Preview Here






Hartman Group: Only 12% of people can identify a “sustainable” company.

15 11 2010

Proving once again that existing approaches to reporting and marketing sustainability initiatives and corporate social responsibility are failing to connect, new research from The Hartman Group demonstrates too few people are aware of sustainable products and companies.

While the research indicates at 15% increase in awareness of the term “sustainability” up to 69%, just 21% of people responding to the survey could identify a sustainable product.

“We’re seeing a broad gap in the way consumers and companies think about and approach sustainability,” said Laurie Demeritt, Hartman Group President & COO. “That very few consumers today can name a sustainable company underscores the fact that so many Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability activities go relatively unnoticed by consumers.”

Demeritt continues in the Hartman release:  “Above all consumers are looking for companies that are good citizens. From this perspective, we say consumers equate sustainability with the golden rule, or a reciprocal notion of fair treatment of communities, people or animals, and look through this lens when evaluating companies or thinking about which brands to use.”

More than 1,600 U.S. adult consumers participated in the online survey.





83% of people want to see more cause marketing. New report from Cone Research.

20 09 2010

Released last week, the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study reports significant new evidence supporting the rise in importance of cause related marketing.  Despite overall low consumer confidence and prolonged unemployment due to the recession, the one thing consumers are confident in is their belief in brands that support worthy causes.

Higlights of the report show that:

  • 88% of people say it is acceptable for comapnies to involve a cause or issue in their marketing.
  • 85% have a more positive image of a product or company that supports a cause they care about.
  • 80% are likely to switch brands, similar in price and quality, to one that supports a cause.

The report also highlighted the powerful role of linking moms and causes in brand purchasing behavior.

Of mom’s surveyed, 95% say cause marketing is acceptable and 92% say they want to buy a product supporting a cause.

You can get a free copy of the Cone Study here.





PR Week: PR firms fail to meet sustainability communication needs.

3 09 2010

In an article written by Chris Daniels, PR Week shares the results of a new survey by Verdantix which highlights the gap between claims and reality about public relations firms which offer sustainability communication consulting expertise.

Read the article in its entirety below.

Most PR firms fail to meet the needs of clients when it comes to sustainable communications.

That is according to a new report from Verdantix, a sustainable business analyst firm, which evaluated 18 firms that claim to offer expertise in sustainable communications.

The report found a majority of the agencies–11 of them–need to seriously improve their offerings. “It seems like some agencies claim a practice, but there’s really not much there,” says Jim Nail, principal analyst for Verdantix.

In fact, the report singled out just two firms (OgilvyEarth and Cone) as leaders in sustainable communications. Four firms were characterized as being on the verge of leadership:  Context America, Ketchum, Edelman and Cohn & Wolfe.

The evaluations are based on interviews with key agency executives, publicly available information, and off-the-record interviews with 15 clients at firms with global revenues of over $2 billion.

PR firms face numerous challenges in relation to sustainable communication—particularly around the fact sustainability is often a complex subject that requires the guidance of third-party expertise, says Nail.

“Almost every agency we talked to has some relationship with NGOs, but they aren’t systematic about bringing them in. They’ll say, ‘Oh, we’ve done some sustainability work with this client so we know what we need to know,’” he says. “I don’t think that’s  sufficient.”

That sentiment was echoed by clients interviewed for the report, who felt big PR firms lack the required knowledge. In fact, six of the 15 firms engaged specialist CSR or sustainability consultants to provide missing expertise.

One of the few firms applauded by the report for its approach on bringing in third-party experts is OgilvyEarth, which has global sustainability advisers who help the agency develop regionally-based experts.

“We rely on our advisers to keep us honest, ensure our work is up-to-date, and to create additional contacts for us, because sustainability is highly networked,” says Seth Farbman, senior partner, worldwide managing director for OgilvyEarth. “If you don’t surround yourself with people who are deeply involved in sustainability, you’ll always be playing catch-up.”

The report found that PR firms also face a lack of client awareness about their sustainable communication offerings. When clients were asked to name a firm known for their sustainability work, no firm was mentioned by more than three companies. In terms of agencies that were top of mind, OgilvyEarth, Edelman, and Cone topped the list.

“That was probably the biggest disappointment for me—that our capabilities weren’t more well-known,” says Dave Chapman, partner at Ketchum West who oversees the agency’s sustainability practice.

He says even before receiving the report, it was an issue Ketchum was addressing. “When this report was being done, we didn’t have a [Web] page that was dedicated to our sustainability point of view and capabilities, but we do now. We didn’t have an Intranet site where we put a lot more information about process for our own internal sources, but we do now,” says Chapman. “We soon hope to be nipping at the heels of Ogilvy and Cone.”

The report also gave the 18 firms poor marks in terms of demonstrating the kind of transparency around sustainability reporting they espouse to clients. “I was shocked to hear they’re not walking the talk,” says Nail.

Edelman was the first PR agency to issue its own CSR report, in 2005, but hasn’t had one since. Chris Deli, global head of CSR and sustainability practice for Edelman, says the agency has made a financial commitment to complete its second full report later  this fiscal year.

The investment into CSR reporting will help put its own policies under a microscope, as well as help inform Edelman’s client work, says Deli. “We’ll be looking not only at our social and environmental impact on a global level, but also what our individual offices are doing.”





Brands and Branding For Good.

29 08 2010

“There must be a better way to make the things we want, a way that doesn’t spoil the sky, the rain or the land.”
– Sir Paul McCartney

Coming to South Africa in October is a conference entitled Brands and Branding for Good.

Congratulations to the organizers and the roster of speakers representing a wide range of global brands including IBM, McDonald’s, Nike, and Dell for coming together to understand and demonstrate how brands can work for the public good.

Learn more about the Brands and Branding For Good Conference here





Counter-Intuitive Intelligence: Recession = Responsibility

29 08 2010

This article from Brandweek demonstrates that the recession has affected not only consumer wallets, but also brand perception. Kudos to the folks at Landor Associates, Penn Schoen Berland and Burson-Marsteller for their new consumer survey demonstrating that transparency and corporate responsibility have become far more important to consumers in a tough economy.

The survey measured consumer perceptions of corporate social responsibility practices and ranked companies that are the most responsible. It found that despite the recession, 75% of consumers believe social responsibility is important, and 55% of consumers said they would choose a product that supports a particular cause against similar products that don’t.

“[Corporate social responsibility] can be the olive branch between struggling industries and consumers in cases where consumers are experiencing the highest expectations and the biggest let downs,” said Scott Osman, global director of Landor’s citizenship branding practice, adding that the industries with brands that have performed poorly, are the ones in which responsibility is valued most.

While 38% of respondents plan to spend the same or more on products or services from socially responsible companies, more than half of consumers are unsure about the meaning of CSR. And those who do know what the term means, define it as “giving back to the local community” (20%), and as “self-regulation and accountability” (19%).

Additionally, the survey found that 70% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products from socially responsible companies. In fact, 28% are willing to pay at least $10 more. That means companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves if they can communicate clearly how they give back to their employees, communities, and the environment, per the survey.

When asked to name the most surprising findings, Osman pointed to the fact that nearly 50% of 18-24 and 25-34 year olds are more likely to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company—a much higher percentage than any other age group. However, Osman added, “a year where there seems have been so much responsibility expressed, especially in light of the earthquake in Haiti, only 11% of Americans say they’ve heard corporate CSR communications.”





Cone Study: 75% of consumers grade companies as C, D, or F on engagement around sustainability.

25 05 2010

May 21, 2010 – A recent study conducted by Cone LLC finds that while the overwhelming majority of American consumers believe that their ideas can help business build more sustainable products, a much smaller number believe companies are doing enough to encourage communication about corporate sustainability.

The report, entitled 2010 Cone Shared Responsibility Study, finds that 84% of the 1,045 American consumers polled believed that their ideas could benefit businesses sustainability offerings, while only 53% felt encouraged to engage at any level. The four key areas consumers wanted more engagement in are: including how a company conducts its business (85%), its products and packaging (83%), its support of social and environmental issues (81%) and its marketing and advertising (74%).

In grading companies on their engagement levels, over 75% of those surveyed gave companies either a “C”, “D”, or “F” on customer engagement. Cone calls this a lost opportunity for most companies, as many more consumers would be more likely buy products and services and recommend companies with better engagement policies.

Consumers are also prepared to listen to companies willing to engage them, with a full 92% of respondents wanting more communication from brands. While this number sounds like an overwhelming endorsement for more brand communication, some other statistics bring to light the dichotomy of the situation:

  • Skepticism – 87 percent of consumers believe the communication is one-sided — companies share the positive information about their efforts, but withhold the negative.
  • Confusion – 67 percent of consumers are confused by the messages companies use to talk about their social and environmental commitments.

For a copy of the complete 2010 Cone Shared Responsibility Study fact sheet, please visit http://www.coneinc.com/research/.





Seventy percent of major companies plan to increase climate change spending.

25 05 2010

Here’s a report on the recent Ernst & Young survey about companies intentions to invest in climate change initiatives.  We love the idea that 89% report the efforts are driven by changing customer demands.

Seventy percent of major companies plan to boost spending on climate change efforts in the next two years, according to a new report from Ernst & Young.

Of the 300 corporate executives surveyed this spring, 89% said their green activities were driven by changing customer demands while 92% also pointed to energy costs as a driver. The fact that 43% of those surveyed said that equity analysts will soon consider climate change actions while valuing companies was also a factor.

Thirty percent said their company had a staffer in charge of climate change initiatives, a trend The Times explored in December.

The respondents hail from 16 countries, representing firms in 18 industry sectors that pull in at least a billion dollars a year in revenue. Nearly half said they intend to shell out between half a percent to more than 5% of that revenue – or about $5 million to $50 million each year – for climate change initiatives.

Two-thirds said they are talking with their suppliers about programs to limit carbon emissions; 36% said they are already in the process of cutting greenhouse gases from their supply chains.

Nearly 95% said national policies played a critical role in their company’s climate change strategy and 81% said the same of global laws. But in countries such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, regulatory and compliance issue was ranked as the largest challenge to accomplishing environmental goals.

The study was conducted by the research group Verdantix.

Tiffany Hsu, The Los Angeles Times





Wall Street Journal Report: For companies operating in developing countries, it pays to commit to improving social and environmental conditions.

25 06 2009

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“Here’s a lesson many executives have yet to learn: A commitment to improving social and environmental conditions in the developing countries where a company operates is the key to maximizing the profits and growth of those operations.” – Wall Street Journal

Research reported in the Wall Street Journal indicates those companies that make a commitment to sustainable business practices in developing countries enjoy six key competitive advantages.

  • A sterling reputation.
  • Better employees.
  • More efficient production.
  • A smoother relationship with authorities.
  • Better coordination, internally and with suppliers.
  • Suppliers that are more reliable and flexible.

But importantly, not only is operating in a sustainable and responsible fashion key in developing countries, so is making your customers aware of that commitment.  Increasingly consumers are examining companies social and environmental track records before deciding what products they plan to buy.

Read the WSJ Report





Aberdeen Research: Executives Making Sustainability A Top Priority

25 06 2009

“Research demonstrates that leading companies have made a resoundingly strong business case for the adoption and expansion of genuine, sustainability strategies and initiatives. ” – Aberdeen Group

In a newly released survey of more than 1600 business executives in 700 companies worldwide, sustainability is identified as one of the top 5 corporate priorities in 2009.  The promising report highlights several key insights into current trends, including:

  • The sustainability efforts are being championed by C-suite executives.
  • Budgets are being either maintained or increased.
  • The vast majority of companies already have executive leadership in place to oversee sustainability.
  • Top performing organizations are already achieving strong business benefits —from cost reductions to enhanced brand value.
  • Across all sectors and geographies, responsibility framed strategies have grown in importance, despite the economy.

The research highlights our beliefs that many, many companies have embraced sustainability and social responsibility and are beginning to see positive return on investment for such efforts.  But few organizations have taken advantage of the opportunity to turn these business practices into differentiated marketing assets and brand equities.  Alignment of sustainability actions and brand messaging and experience remains a huge opportunity to enhance corporate reputation and turn customers into engaged brand ambassadors.

Read the Aberdeen Group Press Release





Good News: Marketers Waking Up To The Value Of Sustainable Branding

24 06 2009

In a very encouraging research survey sponsored by the American Marketing Association and Fleishman Hillard, nearly 60% of marketing and communications professionals believe their organizations will be placing increased emphasis on sustainability issues over the next 2-3 years than in the past.

Read the AMA Fleishman-Hillard Research Study

It is an exciting time to be involved in sustainable branding because more and more companies are recognizing that sustainability can not only be a profitable business practice, but a powerful competitive differentiator.

But in one of the odd contradictions of the survey, while 73% believe corporate reputation will be a driver of adopting sustainability practices, only 60% believe marketing considerations will drive sustainability.  We believe corporate reputation and marketing strategies should be incredibly inter-twined and that communicating and providing ways for people to experience a company’s commitment to sustainability is going to be a brand marketing imperative moving forward.

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The truth is that corporate reputation management moving forward requires orchestration of all elements of the organization.  It is critical the internal silos be broken down so corporate social responsibility actions, sustainability initiatives, and brand communication (plus promotion, sponsorship, events, CRM etc) all be choreographed as a part of the overall brand experience.  The customer doesn’t compartmentalize the impressions they take away from a company or a brand so it is important that the organization does not do it either. Now more than ever when it comes to brand reputation management, the right hand and the left hand not only need to know what each are doing—but both hands should be on the wheel!