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

The Relationship Between Corporate Sustainability and Human Development

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 12, 2016 10:24:32 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By: Bahar Gidwani

A number of years ago, CSRHub showed that its measures of corporate sustainability correlate with the level of development of countries.  For that study, we used the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI).  We found a correlation of 28% for 27 developed countries, but poor correlation with human conditions in less developed countries.

Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter and his colleagues at a group called The Social Progress Imperative have developed a new way of measuring country human development called the Social Progress Index.  The SPI Index is highly correlated with the UN HDI.

SPI_Development Index

The SPI contains more levels of detail than the HDI.  (For the SPI, 61 raw value indicators lead to 12 calculated scores that roll up to three dimensions and a final score.  The HDI is driven by five measures.)  The SPI covers 161 countries—the HDI tracks 199.  Both cover more countries than CSRHub (we have data on companies in 132 countries).  However, after we throw out the 70 countries where CSRHub does not yet have enough rated companies to generate solid average scores for all four of the categories CSRHub tracks, there is a 57 country overlap with the SPI.

At the most simple level, the SPI score for a country is well-correlated with the average CSRHub ratings for the companies in each country.  The r-square of 33% is paired with a F score of 6.5.  This suggests a greater than 0.9995 confidence that two data sets are related.

CSRHub and SPI scores

Digging down into the details shows that positive corporate behavior in the community area is negatively correlated with gains in SPI.  In contrast, positive corporate behavior in environment areas is positively correlated with gains in SPI.

SPI explained by CSRHub Category

We believe that companies in countries with weak SPI scores have built good community programs to offset their society’s weaknesses.  In contrast, companies in the countries with good SPI scores have built up their environment programs, to help improve trust in their activities.

The high “P-Values” and small tStat coefficients for the correlations with Employees and Governance ratings indicates that these company programs are not directly tied to the SPI.  This makes sense, as the SPI’s indicators are focused on societal issues such as health, literacy, and longevity, not on how well corporations pay their employees, train them, or how well they govern themselves.  Still, it is disappointing that there is not a connection between these elements and the SPI.  We would have liked to believe that paying one’s employees well and giving them good benefits would improve overall health and well-being.  We would also have liked to see a tie between a high standard of ethics within corporations and strong government programs that care for those who are disadvantaged or poor.

Note that our study is limited due to the fact that we tie a company solely to the country it is headquartered in.  Most of the larger companies we track have operations in multiple countries and often, multiple regions.  We are also working with a single year’s data on both companies and countries.  Longer term studies may reveal a richer level of detail.

With the wealth of data now available via the SPI, there should be many opportunities for further study on the tie between corporate behavior and societal performance.  We hope our readers will share any results they uncover so that we can make sure that responsible corporations get fair credit for the social benefits they create within their societies.

Bahar Gidwani Bahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to the world’s largest corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information.  It covers over 15,000 companies from 135 industries in 132 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 435 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 improve corporate sustainability performance. 

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Harvard Business School’s Plan for a Carbon Free Future

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 20, 2015 8:51:43 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Sunset_There has been so much good news about business embracing renewable energy that I almost didn’t give it a second thought when a Harvard Business School report called “America’s Unconventional Energy Opportunity” landed on my desk. Subtitled “A Win-Win Plan for the Economy, the Environment, and a Lower-Carbon, Cleaner-Energy Future,” I assumed it was a plan to transform our energy resources to renewables like wind and solar. States are pushing renewables too: New York State just released its roadmap for getting to 50% renewable power by 2030 by focusing on distributed generation and renewable resources.

The lead author of the HBS report is Professor Michael Porter. He is not only a globally-recognized authority on competitive strategy, he’s also works tirelessly on just causes. He created the “Social Progress Index to look beyond GDP at social and environmental factors.” Porter also co-founded FSG-Social Impact Advisors and co-developed its theory of “Shared Value” to help non-profits work with business to create social value. (Full disclosure: I am an HBS graduate and met with Porter and FSG staff.)

So it was disappointing to read that by “unconventional energy” the authors mean “…shale gas and oil resources …accessed and extracted through the process of hydraulic fracturing.”

Porter and his colleagues at HBS and management consulting firm BCG lay out their motivation:

Unconventional gas and oil resources are perhaps the single largest opportunity to improve the trajectory of the U.S. economy, at a time when the prospects for the average American are weaker than we have experienced in generations. America’s new energy abundance can not only help restore U.S. competitiveness but can also create geopolitical advantages for America. These benefits can be achieved while substantially mitigating local environmental impact and speeding up the transition to a cleaner-energy future that is both practical and affordable.

Their solution is to convert coal and oil based energy to natural gas and, when plants come to their natural end-of-life, we’ll replace natural gas with renewables. In the meantime, we’ll restore our economic supremacy by exporting cheap natural gas while reducing our own carbon emissions and energy costs. By 2060, we’d be generating zero carbon emissions from energy generation.

It’s not an easy sell. The first problem is cost. To develop our natural gas resources will require $900 billion in infrastructure investment, including new interstate pipelines, storage facilities, rail, marine and road upgrades, gathering and processing infrastructure, and export terminals. In other words we’d have to spend even more to transition to natural gas as we will spend to convert to renewables, which the report estimates at $750 billion. In the end, with Porter’s plan, we’d be stuck with all that decaying infrastructure and fracking waste. Why not put that money into renewables infrastructure starting now?

The report also calls for spending on training for higher paying jobs in natural gas. Again, why not spend money on renewable energy training instead of having to retrain workers later on? Porter’s argument is economic competitiveness — the GDP increases we would see if we push natural gas production. You can’t generate exports from wind or solar the way you can from natural gas, and ours is by far the cheapest in the world.

Many of the report’s recommendations read like a fossil fuel producers dream: in addition to some positive proposals such as imposing regulations and increasing transparency, it also advocates ending “outdated” restrictions on oil and gas exports and encouraging industry compliance with industry-led self-enforcement, even after some industry players have been seen to be systemically corrupt.

All that said, the plan has several positives that should not be overlooked. First, shifting from coal to natural gas can take about a quarter of the responsibility for the 15% carbon reduction between 2005 and 2013. It may be the only certain path to achieving the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and eliminating coal plants. Producing just half the greenhouse gases (GHG) as coal (methane aside), natural gas is, as Porter et al say, “a crucial asset in making America’s energy transition both feasible and at a competitive cost across a range of carbon reduction scenarios, at least through 2030.” And that transition is way faster than fossil fuel industry thought leaders like Shell.

As I discussed in a blog for CSRHub, Shell’s most recent future scenarios report advocates a transition to renewables by 2100. Porter’s assumes power grid alterations necessary for renewable energy will take 20-30 years, taking us to 2035-45, at which point renewables will be even more cost competitive than natural gas and will be completely phased out of power production before 2060. Working back from Shell’s prediction of 2100, that looks pretty good.

We’re all tempted to point fingers at a policy recommendation that will delay achieving a zero emissions future while bolstering fossil fuel and power businesses. Isn’t this just business as usual? Maybe, but at least this timeline is much faster than the fossil fuel industry’s. Porter’s report acknowledges that if solar and wind prices continue to fall below oil and gas prices as they have in some places like Austin, Texas, business will drive an even faster transition. It’s all about the money, and in this case, that could be a very good thing.

Carol2Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 15,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 130 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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