Top Themes in 2009

I have been too critical of top ten rankings to list my top ten corporate responsibility issues for 2009 with any sort of credibility. But I can still identify themes that were important to me this year and end with a light hearted piece like they do on the news !

Greenwashing and Whitewashing – Earlier in the year, I wrote a number of posts on green and whitewashing as did guest bloggers , Kathrin Winkler from EMC and Keith Miller of 3M. Between these posts and in my December posts on employee engagement and sustainable community investment, I think a consistent theme came through. That is, the importance of striking the right balance between continuing to do the popular things that demonstrate engagement , without allowing them to divert attention from the material actions that make a substantive difference.

Ranking Programs – My overriding perspective on CSR rankings is that they serve a very valuable purpose. CR practitioners use rankings to drive change inside their companies and long may they continue. Brian Boyd talked about rankings from J&J’s perspective in his guest post in October. However, I maintain what I hope is a healthy skepticism of the supposed accuracy implied by quantification. You cannot define the best company accurately any more than you can define the best car or best country in the world. But you can improve the value of precise quantification by narrowing rankings to specific themes and sectors.

Product Impact – I tried to articulate in the Four Dimensions of Responsibility that the corporate responsibility field is far more than the ‘Direct Impact’ of the company’s carbon footprint or its community involvement contribution. In fact, in most cases that will be by far the smaller part of its impact. The impact of a business’s products and services and public policy positions is often far greater. In September’s guest post from Mark Buckley at Staples, in November’s from Francois Ajenstat at Microsoft and from Frank Mantero of GE in December we saw great examples of social and environmental sustainability initiatives way beyond ‘Direct Impact’.

Carbon Emissions and Climate Change – There was a lot of content on this topic in my blog this year. Emma Stewart wrote a guest post on Autodesk’s Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-stabilizing Targets (CFACT) . I wrote about how at BT Americas we completed our solar installation at El Segundo this year and production is as expected. We launched an employee solar residential program which has had great engagement although fewer installations than hoped. In April Kim Saylors-Laster posted on Walmart’s approach to solar. Carbon footprint and climate change is only one component of corporate responsibility, but we have had a less than clear outcome from COP15 and while compliance requirements remain far short of what is required to mitigate catastrophic climate change, the topic remains as central in the CR field at the end of 2009 as it was in the beginning.

Role of the CR Practitioner – I posted on varying themes in which I proposed that the business would benefit from the input of the CR team. This includes advertising, mis-use of the law to define what is good and bad , paying interns, the rights of the individual versus protection of the vulnerable ! I plan to continue on this topic in the new year as I consider that as CR practitioners we need to continue to spread our wings and broaden our influence within the business.

And my lighthearted piece at the end – Naked men in locker rooms do increase blog hit rate. But they also reduce your ‘average time on page’ when you don’t meet the customers’ expectations – SMART objectives can undermine sustainable behavior !

Happy Holidays


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