2011 SUSTAINABILITY LEADERSHIP REPORT
Measuring perception vs. reality
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
While sustainability is often associated with“green” environmental practices, it is increasinglybeing used in a broader sense. For the purposesof this study, sustainability and sustainablepractices encompass social and corporate gover-nance factors, in addition to practices relating tothe environment.
What prole should ESG practicesbe given in brand positioningand communications?
There is an increasing, global focus on corporatesustainability practices. ESG performance is beingscrutinized more closely than ever.
Today, there is a clear mandate for marketing and branding executives to do moreto ensure their brand’s sustainability. Its ongoing relevance and health must beestablished in a world of shifting societal, customer, employee and investor values.A key question for corporate leadership involves the linkage between operationalsustainability practices and the corporate brand. If ESG practices are indeedbecoming more important to major constituencies, what prole should they begiven in the organization’s brand positioning and communications? To answerthis question–and make good brand investment decisions–it is critical to obtainobjective observations on the role sustainability practices play in the decision-making processes of key stakeholder groups. With appropriate measurement,leaders can prioritize sustainability initiatives using fact rather than conjecture.Measurement also creates an opportunity to provide critical inputs on the materialimpact (or “materiality,” in the parlance of reporting) of specic sustainability issuesfrom the standpoints of both internal and external stakeholders. These inputsare crucial for compliance with the reporting criteria established by the GlobalReporting Initiative, which produces a leading standard for sustainability reporting. The role played by sustainable practices in stakeholder decisions represents anew and valuable input for both brand investment guidance and reporting com-pliance, yet this factor is not typically addressed by existing brand performancemeasurements. It is often necessary to modify these measurements by integratingsustainability into brand research methodologies and analytics.An in-depth examination of currently available surveys, studies, thought leadershippapers and articles on the subject of corporate sustainability revealed signicantknowledge gaps. In particular, our team noted a marked lack of tools that can pin-point where and how corporate brand- and reputation-building communicationsshould intersect with the ESG concerns of key constituencies. In addition, there waslittle or no ability to identify the specic internal operational initiatives that can bealigned to address these concerns. The research team concluded that closing these gaps could add value and clarityto corporate decision-making around sustainability investments in both opera-tional improvements and brand communications. This inaugural study, the rst of aplanned annual series, is the result of our eorts to help clients ll those knowledgegaps and make informed strategic communications, as well as operational deci-sions around their ESG performance.