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Private Company Ratings on CSRHub

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 20, 2013 9:00:29 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

Publicly-traded companies are a big part of world economic activity.  However, most of the world’s goods, services, and jobs are generated by privately held companies (including large, medium-sized, and smaller companies), not-for-profit enterprises (including foundations, schools, and religious institutions), and government organizations (airports, ports, municipal governments, agencies, etc.).  CSRHub’s mission is to provide transparent information on the social performance of all types of enterprises.  This past month, we have begun to offer ratings on a number of private and government organizations.

Why couldn’t we do this before?  The original pressure for revealing social performance data came from investors who wanted to put their money only into companies that had a positive social impact.  These investors supported the work of financial analyst groups, encouraged the rise of reporting systems such as the Global Reporting Initiative, and helped fund not for profit groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project (which has recently re-christened itself “CDP”).  These systems tended to focus on the largest and most widely-held companies—the ones that large investors most wanted to know about.

Competitive pressures—and investor interest in investing in smaller growth companies and public companies in less-developed economies—has caused the coverage universe of financially driven research to expand.  Some of our data partners now claim to track the social performance of 30,000 publicly-traded companies.  At the same time, a growing number of non-public organizations have begun reporting data on their sustainability performance.  For example, we estimate that about 1,800 non-public organizations filed Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reports in 2012, as did at least a thousand of the 5,000 reports offered via CDP.

Two additional sources of data have emerged on non-public companies over the past few years.  One is crowd source/user contributed data feeds.   Employee opinions about 110,000 companies come from Glassdoor, sustainability-oriented user ratings on 5,000 companies come from GoodGuide/ULE and more than 30,000 products and companies come from WeGreen, data on the brand value of 5,000+ organizations derive from Brand Finance, and 27 measures of risk on 32,800 companies, 7,000 projects, 5,300 NGOs and 4,500 governmental bodies come via RepRisk.  Some of these sources receive fees from investors, some are supported by donors, and some generate revenue from selling services such as job ads or consulting.

The second new source arises from the effort by major companies to improve the sustainability of their supply chains.  Engagement from a company’s supply chain is vital to meet announced sustainability goals (e.g., a 20% reduction in carbon use) or respond to pressure from social groups on water user, treatment of indigenous peoples, child labor, etc.  Using software systems from firms such as Source 44, OneReport, Credit360, Enablon, Eco-Vadis, CSRware, and others, large companies gather huge databases of sustainability data on their own operations and on their suppliers—many of whom are not publicly traded.  Industry organizations (e.g., EICC, The Sustainability Consortium, SEDEX, and Sustainable Packaging Coalition) help by providing standard questionnaires and by allowing their members to share data and supply chain audits.

When we add data from some of these new sources to the information we obtain from other more conventional inputs, we can rate almost 200 non-public companies and organizations.  The initial list includes companies such as Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Levi Strauss, S. C. Johnson, and TIAA CREF.  We also have partial ratings on McKinsey & Company, The US Postal Service, and Finnair.  As a group, our non-public companies have a respectable average rating (using our average user profile) of 55.5—seven points above the average for all companies of 48.5.

non-public companies

This good performance makes sense—the first non-public organizations to report are likely to be those who have good social performance and who want others to know about it.  We expect the next wave of smaller organizations and government groups to bring this average down—just as smaller public company scores lag behind those of bigger public companies.  We also expect the number of sources on non-public organizations to converge towards the average for publicly-traded organization of about eight sources.

Average Number of Sources

Non-Public Organizations

4.3

Publicly-Traded Companies

7.8

Would you like to help us further our cause by bringing you more non-public organization information?  If you would, please:

  • Reward non-public organizations who report—even if their scores still are not as good as we might like—by giving them your business and your attention.
  • Share ratings from non-public organizations with other non-public organizations.  We need to break down the organizational barrier that says “we are private so we don’t talk about these things.”
  • Encourage anyone who collects information to allow the groups they collect their data from to control their own data and to have the option of sharing it.  It is unfair for big companies to require their supply chain components to pay to gather and report data, but to not get further value from their work.

Our long term goal is to provide a CSRHub rating for any type of organization—public, private, or governmental—of any size, in any location.  To reach our goal, we need your help to encourage all organizations to report their social performance and to make available more of the data that has already been collected in various sustainability tracking systems.


Bahar GidwaniBahar 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.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 7,000+ companies from 135 industries in 91 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 3 Comments posted in Bahar Gidwani, Carbon Disclosure Project, credit360, CSR, GoodGuide, non-public companies, publicly-traded companies, privately- traded companies, Source 44, Uncategorized, WeGreen, industry organizations, Onereport, sustainability, NGO, social performance, software systems, Brand, Brand Finance, CDP, CSRHub, Glassdor, Global Reporting Initiative, GRI

Why Use Big Data to Measure CSR?

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 27, 2012 10:00:31 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

The following is part 3 of a 3-part series on “Big Data."

By Bahar Gidwani

In the past several posts, we have defined Big Data, CSRHub uses Big Data for CSR Ratingsshown the problems we hope it will address, and described how CSRHub has implemented a Big Data approach to creating corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability ratings.  It is time now to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the “Big Data” approach.

The assumption is that this approach offers many benefits which are not available under traditional analyst-based ratings methods:

  • A broad measure of perceived performance.  Input from most of the “stakeholders” who evaluate a company’s sustainability performance is captured.  Investor input from the SRI sources, community input from NGOs and government groups, and input from suppliers, employees, and customers via supply chain tools, employee surveys, and product ratings are included.  While no one can claim to measure true company performance—no external system can do this, it is possible to give an accurate overall multi-stakeholder-based estimate of how a company is perceived.
  • Increased transparency and accountability.  The system described automatically reveals to users which sources have reported on each company rated.  Via subscriber-accessible tables and custom reports, users can inspect the details of the data gathered.  This allows companies and their stakeholders to identify the data elements that affect how they are perceived (transparency) and to respond to or correct data that may not be accurate (accountability).
  • Reduced impact from errors and bias.  If a source contains a lot of factual errors or an undisclosed bias, this system automatically reduces the weight given to the source.  In this way, the effect on our results of poor quality sources is minimized and corrected for systemic biases.  Because sources generate their information independently, there is good statistical accuracy for our aggregated scores.
  • Regular update and trend tracking.  Some sources update their information daily, some quarterly, some only once per year.  However, because there are so many sources, our ratings are updated each month.  This allows the system to show trend charts that connect actions and outcomes with perception.
  • Broad coverage of industries, geographies, and company types.  An aggregation system is dependent on its sources for coverage.  We do not yet have full data on small companies or on those in remote geographies or unusual industries.  But, the system allows us to use whatever is available.  We may not be able to rate all aspects of each new company we add to our system, but any ratings we can generate should be consistent across our system.
  • This approach supports a fourth Big Data “V”—“Veracity.”  There is free access to basic ratings information to everyone.  As a result, any stakeholder can check scores and audit results.
  • Users can adjust ratings to fit their own personal views.  There is sufficient data from a wide enough range of sources that we can present alternate sides of many contentious issues.  Users can record a profile that adjusts our ratings to match their own view.  Users can emphasize the priority of environment, employee, community or governance issues, be in favor of nuclear power or against it, or focus on the risks from mercury in fish.  They can then share their personal overall ratings of company sustainability with the other users.

This approach to ratings has a few drawbacks that are common to Big Data systems:

  • Perception is not reality.  Primarily policies and intent are measured.  A company that is good at communicating and “spinning” its story could raise its ratings on the system to a level they do not deserve.  Of course, as more data is secured—especially from bottoms up “crowd” sources—this type of behavior will likely eventually be detected.  A Corporate Library tool called Audit Integrity does this type of sleuthing on corporate financial reports.
  • Best practices are not immediately obvious.  It is fairly easy to discover that certain activities seem connected with better ratings.  For instance, companies who use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines or who participate in the UN Global Compact have statistically better ratings than those who do not.  However, it is hard to tell if a program at one company has more effect on its perceived CSR performance than a different program at another company.  The system described can only provide a base of data—the study and explanation of ratings differences must be done by CSR professionals.
  • We cannot correct individual company errors that are found.  There are conflicts in the views of disparate sources, on a regular basis.  These discrepancies can’t be “resolved” even when we suspect that some are caused by a source’s data collection or analysis error.  The best that can be done is to report a suspected error to the source and allow it to research and correct the error, in its own way.

We believe the benefits of using a Big Data approach to measure corporate social responsibility and sustainability performance far outweigh the drawbacks.  A Big Data system can be extended to include thousands of smaller companies and organizations.  We hope to expand our universe of coverage while we keep narrowing down the “error bars” in our ratings and to see if we can discover some of the drivers that change them.  For instance, as we build up a tail of detailed historic data, we may be able to prove that certain actions lead to ratings changes and others do not.  As more data become available the approach outlined above can be applied to virtually any company regardless of size and location.


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.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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