Sustainability goals help corporations stay committed to progress
John Kalkowski, Editorial Director -- Packaging Digest, 8/2/2012 9:39:12 AM
With increasing frequency, corporate sustainability reports are being distributed through news services. The reports are a relatively recent phenomenon, started back in the 1980s primarily by chemical companies that need to spruce up their sullied images.
Now, sustainability reports are becoming almost as common as annual financial reports. They are designed to improve a company's transparency by providing information to investors, employees, customers and communities on environmental, social and governance issues. They aren't just the domain of publicly traded companies. Private companies are preparing them, too.
In most cases where companies are producing consumer products, packaging is front and center in sustainability reports. Not surprising, since packaging is a company's face to the market. Also, packaging accounts for about 40 percent of the waste going to U.S. landfills, so it is a natural target for environmental concerns. Some of these reports are endless lists of minutiae. You have to wonder how companies arrived at their goals, and there are concerns about how their "progress" is being reported, and if the activities have any real impact on the environment.
The recent sustainability report by computer-maker Dell is one of the more interesting studies seen lately. Several years ago, Dell launched its 3C (cube, content, curb) strategy and has pioneered the use of innovative materials such as bamboo and mushrooms. In the report, Dell says it has exceeded its goals by reducing the volume of its packaging more than 12 percent, increasing the amount of recycled and renewable content up to 40 percent and ensuring that up to 75 percent of its packaging is recyclable at curbside. Dell claims it has eliminated more than 20 million pounds of packaging material since 2008.
A recent survey of global CEOs by Timetric shows cost savings and operational efficiency, strengthening competitive position and client demand are major drivers influencing the sustainability efforts of senior industry executives. The same survey indicates 43 percent of respondents expect to see increased profitability over the next year due to sustainability activities.
Another report on mandatory corporate sustainability reporting prepared for the Harvard Business Review examines the impact of laws and regulations in 58 countries. It concludes that with adoption of mandatory reporting, social responsibility of business leaders rises, sustainable development and employee training become higher priorites and corporate governance improves.
It's often said that you can't improve something if you can't measure it. Sustainability reports are an important tool for establishing the metrics by which we gauge our own companies and those with which we do business.
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