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

CSRHub’s Bahar Gidwani Speaking at SB’s New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 24, 2012 10:24:44 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

CSRHub CEO and Co-founder Bahar Gidwani will be speaking at Sustainable Brand’sSustainable Brands Issues in Focus New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference, September 27-28, 2012 at The Wharton School in Philadelphia, PA.  Bahar will be on a discussion panel, The Evolution of Sustainability Standards, along with executives from:

UL Environment - Susan Herbert, VP Science Strategy
Timberland - Betsy Blaisdell, Senior Manager of Environmental Stewardship
EPEAT - Sarah O'Brien, Director of Marketing and Outreach
CSRHub - Bahar Gidwani, Co-Founder & CEO

The Evolution of Sustainability Standards

It  is not hard for a sustainability professional to get lost in a quickly expanding sea of proposals for sustainability standards, be they for purposes of reporting, certification, consumer outreach, or comparison across companies and industries. As the closing panel at New Metrics '12, they will discuss where sustainability standards may be heading and why, and tackle the question, "How should a business determine what relevant standards initiatives they should support and/or apply for?"

The first 10 people to register for SB’s New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference and let us know will receive a 25% discount on a subscription to CSRHub!  Contact sales@csrhub.com for the discount link.


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 175 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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Uncertainly Certified

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 28, 2011 8:26:32 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

 

The folks at BigRoom have worked for a couple of years on a side project (their main goal is to launch an  .ECO suffix for the Internet).  They are trying to capture, document, and categorize the various green, eco, and sustainability-oriented certification programs.  So far, they’ve found more than 300.

 

Some are pretty well known.  For instance, the Department of Energy and the EPA combined in 1992 to launch their Energy Star ratings.  They now put Energy Star ratings on appliances, building supplies, and homes.  Underwriters Laboratories—which is famous for its hugely-respected safety ratings—also offers UL Environment (ULE) certificates.  The Forest Stewardship Council has gotten a lot of wood and paper manufacturers to make the changes needed to earn its FSC certificate.  And buildings that conform to the US Building Council’s LEED standard get a lot of attention both from their owners and from those who work in the buildings—and seem to enjoy them.

 

Certification is also becoming part of supply chain management.  Manufacturers (like Procter & Gamble and Seventh Generation) want to ensure that their suppliers are well-behaved.  Retailers (like WalMart and Home Depot) need to be sure that the products they sell are socially responsible.  These companies are sending out surveys and asking for data on carbon use, chemical emissions, and labor practices.  Suppliers are hoping that getting approved in one program will turn into a credential they can use to get passes from other programs.

 

1400175456_f5bcfb085dOf course, it is hard to know how far to trust certificates.  How can a consumer know whether or not the wood in a chair really came from a sustainably harvested tree?  How can we know that the chair wasn’t made using child labor or that the varnish on it didn’t pollute the water in the community where it was made?  How do we know that the drivers who transported our chair were properly trained and that their pensions and health care are adequate?  Can we be sure that the store we bought the chair in didn’t just stick a fake certificate on it?

 

The fact that most certification programs rely on self-reported data can make things worse.  Some suggest that a third party, like a consultant or an accounting firm, verify this data.  But there is obvious pressure on these third parties to give favorable rulings.  In most certification programs, there is no central repository of the data that has been collected.  Thus, there is no easy way to cross check the data, either at a top level or in detail.

 

There are a few independent organizations that  do their own testing and rating of products.  For instance, the Eco Index is tracking 377 eco labels in 211 countries and trying to put together a supply-side view of product sustainability.  ULE is working on an ambitious plan to integrate rigorous third party review of sustainability information into a standard called ULE880.  We are also seeing people use our ratings as a high-level way to test whether or not a company is likely to be telling the truth, when it claims to be performing responsibly and sustainably. 

 

In the end, certification systems need the same kind of independent audit process that financial statements receive—plus the same external review and criticism that financial statements are supposed to get from investors and analysts.  We hope that our CSRHUB ratings may eventually become part of this feedback loop.

 


 

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.

Photo inset: Creative Commons licensed by joiseeshowaa.

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CSR Standards: Who Makes the Rules?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 4, 2011 9:57:21 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

This post originally appeared in Triple Pundit.

In a previous post, we described the trove of corporate social responsibility (CSR) data that is available from finance-related researchers.  One of the main places these firms get their data is from company-written CSR reports.  Corporate Register offers links to more than 6,000 of these reports—from all types of companies and organizations.

How do companies decide what to report and how to report it?  Since CSR and sustainability reporting are fairly new areas, most companies look outside of their accounting and management teams for guidance and standards.  They get help from organizations such as:

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): One of the first and most-widely used reporting standards bodies, GRI launched in the late 1990s with support from a who’s who of sustainability pioneers and backing from UNEP.  Thanks to untold hours of work from stakeholders, technical advisors, and national organizations, GRI has defined and guided CSR reporting for more than 2,500 companies and organizations.  The latest GRI standard (called G3) includes more than 160 areas for measurement and disclosure.  GRI is now working to encourage mandatory dual reporting (where companies must report both their fiscal and social performance) by 2020.

International Standards Organization (ISO): We have all benefited for years from ISO standards for product quality, health, and safety.  Now, ISO has created a standard for internal tracking and reporting social responsibility performance called ISO 26000.  This massive project has benefited from input from 450 participating experts, 210 observers, and 42 liaison organizations.  ISO26000 data can generally be “mapped” into the formats needed for other standards (such as GRI) so companies can use their internal data for external reporting.  ISO also offers the ISO 14000 standard for environmental management.  This standard helps companies track and improve their environmental performance.

Social Accountability International (SAI): The SA8000 standard is based on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child and various International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.  It applies at the facility level—so companies may have only gone through the SA8000 process on some of their plants or offices.  As of September of 2010, more than 2,300 facilities in 62 companies have received SAI certification—and many other facilities are at various stages in the process.  Of course, many of the materials gathered during this type of certification can feed into an organization’s CSR report.

Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS): The Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) was launched to give company ratings to impact investors (those who want to use their investments to generate positive change).  As part of this ambitious effort, GIIRS has helped to develop IRIS—an independent set of standards that would help mission-driven businesses measure and report their social impact.  The current IRIS taxonomy includes five spreadsheets of measurement processes and more than 90 definitions.

UL Environment: There are several emerging efforts underway to give companies a voluntary standard way of rating themselves, and obtaining third party verification. These include an exciting project by UL Environment, in partnership with Greener World Media, which is developing an organization-wide sustainability standard that will be used to assess corporate policies and practices, known as the ULE 880.

B Corporation (B Corp): More than 360 companies (including CSRHUB) have now completed the B Corp assessment process.  We answered a long list of questions about our social behavior and then were quizzed about various aspects of our performance.  We got a passing grade—plus good reminders about the social side of our mission and management approach.  B Corp reveals a list of the companies that have completed the assessment, but does not yet share most of the data it gathers.

Table: Berit Anderson

In general, there is a gap between the data companies gather and the data that they reveal, via CSR reports, regulatory filings, and other communication activities.  There may also be a gap between the data companies report and their true performance.  Most CSR standards allow for “third party verification.”  However, in many cases, the only groups with the necessary training and experience to serve as verifiers are CSR and sustainability consulting groups—with the fees for their reviews paid by the companies they are reviewing.  This leads to charges such as “greenwashing” and to a lack of the uniform reporting and transparency required to prove the effectiveness and credibility of these standards.  CSR standards groups are doing worthy and necessary work—but they need more regulatory and marketplace support to force companies and organizations to comply with both the spirit and the letter of their standards.


Bahar Gidwani is Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. 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, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey. Bahar has consulted to companies including Citibank, Banco Portuguese do Atlantico, Crane Co., Sperry, GE, General Dynamics, Computer Associates, Oracle, Microsoft, Computer Sciences, EDS, Cerner, and Acxiom. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Bahar is based in New York City.

CSRHUB is a corporate social responsibility ratings tool that allows managers, researchers, consultants, academics and individual activists to track the CSR performance of major companies. We aggregate data from more than 90 sources to provide our users with a comprehensive source of CSR information about 5000+ publicly traded companies in 62 countries. Browse our ratings at www.csrhub.com.

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