CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

Can Companies Collaborate With Cities On Sustainability?

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 9, 2012 10:27:24 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

Recently, Agrion offered me the opportunity to present a webinar on Company involvement in sustainable cities.  The seminar was moderated by Agrion’s Josh Soble and included input from Andrew Watterson, a Brown Flynn senior consultant who previously served as the Chief of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland and Julie Marth, who runs the Office for a Healthy Environment at the world-famous Cleveland Clinic.

In my role as CSRHub’s CEO, I mostly work with corporate sustainability professionals and their advisors.  We provide data on corporate social responsibility and sustainability performance, and involvement with the community (e.g., the cities that companies live in) is only one of the four major categories we rate.  However, I wondered if our huge database of company information could be combined with measures of city sustainability to at least show a connection between the two. Our research described below found that there does seem to be a connection that suggests that by working together, cities and companies may end up with happier and healthier citizens and employees.

I started my part of the talk by pointing out that most large companies have sustainability programs.  A good way to prove this is to use our proprietary tracking of company CSR website areas.  More than 3,000 of the 5,000 companies we rate (across 65 countries and 135 industries) have a CSR area on their site.  About 58% of US companies share sustainability information in this way.

We base our ratings on data from more than 170 sources of sustainability information.  Many of these sources get data from local communities—so there is good input from this “stakeholder” group.  When we compare our sustainability ratings for US companies against a measure of company sustainability like the “Our Green Cities Livability Score,” we find a reasonably good connection.

This data is only on 52 cities and 734 companies—and is only for US companies and cities.  We’d like to replicate the work for other countries, and hope some of our readers can offer us similar “livability” standards for other regions.  We’d also like to see if there is a relationship between the sustainability performance of companies and other aspects of city performance.  For instance, the Sperling’s Stressful Cities study gave us scores on Unemployment and Divorce rates for 47 cities that we could connect with our sustainability scores for 716 companies.  Here are the results:

Sustainability and Unemployment Rate

Sustainability and Divorce Rate

Our usual “chicken and egg” caveat applies to this work.  It is possible that more sustainable companies are attracted to and locate in more sustainable cities, or it could be that sustainable cities encourage their local companies to improve their social performance and contribute to the cities they live in.  Either way, there does seem to be a connection that suggests that by working together, cities and companies may end up with happier and healthier citizens and employees.


Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHub. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

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CSR Data Tied to Better Scores

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 12, 2012 9:01:35 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani


The subject of this post could be summarized as (for those who know Latin) scientia potentas est. This is a quote from Francis Bacon that means, “in knowledge is power.” We recently contributed knowledge from our sustainability information system, that helps substantiate some ground-breaking research. Both studies showed a connection between strong social performance and a commitment to sharing data and knowledge. We hope these research studies will be powerful tools for influencing corporate behavior.

On March 6, Cora Lee Mooney, in conjunction with the BrownFlynn team, published a report called “GRI Application Levels: Why Strive for an A?” Brown Flynn is a both a well-known sustainability consulting firm and one of only a few GRI-certified training partners. They wanted to understand if companies benefit from receiving the A level for their Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report. Do they get credit for the hard work this accomplishment requires, from outside stakeholders? With a lot of hard work, they confirmed that there was a positive relationship between GRI application level and CSRHub’s sustainability rating score.

The folks at Brown Flynn were careful not to claim that the simple act of reporting information caused companies to be more positively viewed. It is possible (and perhaps even likely?) that companies that adopt GRI reporting are good corporate citizens, even before they start the reporting process. For instance, the following graph shows that the distribution of ratings on the CSRHub system for companies who commit to the UN Global Compact, is much better than those who do not.

Data1

Still, establishing a connection between GRI ratings and perceived sustainability performance is important. Those who want to find good companies to work with, buy from, supply to, or serve can start with those who participate in GRI. Further, showing that each higher level of GRI participation is associated with a higher average sustainability score may encourage companies to push to report more.

About a week ago, we learned that Christopher J. Hughey and Professor Adam J. Sulkowski at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth had used CSRHub data to study the relationship between the amount of information companies release and their perceived social performance. The authors used standard statistical tools to prove a correlation between the amount of data that companies in the oil and gas industry disclose and their sustainability score on CSRHub. The idea that more data leads to a better score is one we’ve looked at in several ways. (The chart below shows the correlation between number of sources of data and overall rating across our entire coverage universe.) This paper was the first we’ve seen that nailed things down scientifically.

Data2

Over the past year, we’ve supplied data for and supported studies by several of our partners, including NGOs, research houses, and publications. As our database grows (we now have more than 10 million data elements), our coverage widens (we have partial data on 83,000 companies), our number of sources increases (we will soon have more than 150 sources), and our time scale lengthens (we now have 17 months of ratings history) we should be able to empower many types of research, in many fields. It is great to see how seriously firms like Brown Flynn and academic groups such as UMass are probing and analyzing sustainability performance. Thanks to their work, we are starting to see our field move away from arguments based on what should be right, to arguments based on what we can prove is right. A sound basis in well-studied facts should allow us to win over those who doubt and question the importance of corporate social responsibility.


Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHub. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

 

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