Research Wednesday: Citizenship, Responsibility, or Sustainability?

February 13, 2013

Last Research Wednesday I wrote about BCLC’s ongoing work to study the sustainability reports of 45 companies. I’m happy to announce that analysis is now complete. To hear our full results, you’ll have to be a BCLC member attending our April Bricks and Sticks Conference. However, for our loyal readers I thought I’d share a fun tidbit we picked up along the way.

And the winner is…

Our analysis focused on over 100 different factors relating to reports’ presentation and content. The name of a report was one of the many presentation factors we studied.  Some companies called their report a “Sustainability Report,” others called it a “Corporate Responsibility Report,” still others called it a “Global Citizenship Report.” At the heart of these differences is the on-going debate about what to call this field of do-gooder business. Might analyzing the title of reports offer some guidance?

When examining our sample of titles, we discovered six different naming conventions. The six were: Responsibility, Sustainability, Citizenship, Annual, Environmental, and HSE (short for Health, Safety, and Environment). These conventions are themes with variations. For instance, under the umbrella convention of Responsibility you have titles like Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Global Responsibility. What was the leading convention? 

In our sample, Responsibility was used in nearly 40% of reports, followed by 31% using the term Sustainability, and 22% using Citizenship. The remaining 8% used either Annual, Environmental, or HSE. 

Now the researcher in me must caution that this is just a review of 45 reports, and it isn’t necessarily representative of the field. The predominance of the word Sustainability might relate to our choice of the Green Rankings as our framework. Still, even with caveats mentioned, it’s interesting to see the predominance of the Responsibility framework. From this cursory evidence, it appears that Responsibility might be the leading terminology used in the field.

What about the variations on the conventions? Among reports using the Citizenship convention, 80% used the phrase Global Citizenship and 20% used the term Corporate Citizenship.  Among the reports using the Responsibility convention, most used the term Corporate Responsibility (61%), with Corporate Social Responsibility following at 22%. Social Responsibility and Global Responsibility were present in 11% and 6% of reports.  Interestingly, none of the Sustainability reports had a variation. When companies chose the term Sustainability, they must have felt the term needed no qualifier. 

Hope you found this interesting – see you next Research Wednesday!