Measurement

Sustainability leader surveys and comparisons, is there really any point?

So another year, another survey of executives working in sustainability, shows, er, more or less the same results as most of the others in the last decade.Is there any real point to this, other than for expensive consultants to get publicity and sales leads?

How useful is it for us to celebrate Unilever’s PR triumphs yet again?

(Yes much of what they do is backed up with real substance but we all also know they are very communications focused when some of their competitors are not. That does make a significant difference)

Shall we again say, oh, look, WWF (for being cuddly) and Greenpeace (for being edgy) come top of the list, they’ve done well haven’t they?

Same old same old. Yawn.

You might write this off as jaded carping.

Maybe it is. But what use is this same information, again, really?

We are overly obsessed with false ratings, prescriptive reporting guidelines, incomparable ‘rankings’ (Toyota vs. Nestle, how helpful) and indexes that seem to be there to make companies largely feel better about badging incrementalism as ‘systemic innovation’ and to help investors cover their ESG backs.

There’s a space in all this endless, repetitive white noise for someone to find companies genuinely changing their models and providing the products and services for the future.

We see this best in circular economy work and increasingly, in the area of preventing deforestation, where game changing stuff does seem to happening. I’ve seen some research on this before, it’s really compelling. Perhaps my own business should do more in this space. We probably should. OK, we definitely should.

One senior executive at a major campaigning NGO said to me privately not long ago he was inclined not to bother with judging any more sustainable business awards given the companies winning “business of the year” etc were just a merry go round of the same names largely doing the same old thing. He has a point, as these latest rounds of self-serving surveys demonstrate.

Perhaps its time to pause a little in the “Unilever, Interface, Patagonia, WWF, Greenpeace” celebrations and focus a little more research on the products and services and business models that we can all point to and say “that really does look like something that might helps us get out of trouble, and it’s new, and replicable/scalable”.

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