Bridgestone Americas May End Your Survey Fatigue

December 18, 2013

In September, I attended a great conference put on by Sustainable Brands called The New Metrics of Sustainable Business 2013. In a previous post, I commented on the overall lessons I learned from attending the conference. However, in that post I didn’t mention one of the best individual presentations I heard.

Led by Tim Bent of Bridgestone Americas and Jeff Gowdy of Vanderbilt University, the presentation described a tool they recently created to help Bridgestone respond to requests for sustainability information. Tim and Jeff colloquially refer to this tool as “The Hub.”

If this tool spreads between multiple companies, it might be possible for them to stand together on ... the flood of redundant requests.

From the start, it was clear why Bridgestone needed The Hub. They are like thousands of other manufacturing companies, who get a lot of requests for information. As they mentioned in the panel, these requests are a Tower of Babel. Suppliers, buyers, NGOs, and other organizations ask for hundreds of pieces of information about the company's sustainability; much of it redundant. Previously there was no way to see all of these requests in one place or a common repository for finding information that was already discovered. Without a common hub for inputting requested information, it was unclear who should be assigned to find and maintain each piece of information in the future.

When Tim decided to gain some visibility on the flurry of requests coming into his company, an answer to these problems was born. With help from Jeff, a professor at Vanderbilt, they set out to catalogue each request for information submitted to Bridgestone. There are many things which are admirable about this process. For one, they spared no attention to detail. Unless a question was almost exactly the same, they recorded these questions as separate entries in The Hub. While labor intensive, this process allowed them to record how many pieces of information were truly being requested. This was also a very practical approach. Instead of starting out with preconceived notions about the information they should gather, they built their tool from the ground up and let the reality of questions dictate the structure of The Hub. Their approach was also admirable for another reason. Rarely do companies take on such ambitious research internally. Like the other professionals in attendance, Tim and Jeff were at New Metrics because they wanted to solve measurement problems, and they were unafraid of doing the work themselves.

My interest was piqued when I heard Jeff and Tim present on The Hub. Here was a company taking a rational approach to the problem of survey fatigue. Not willing to simply throw their hands up in the air, they were doing something about it. What’s more, they were taking a practical no-nonsense approach and solving the problem in a way that could be shared with others.

Bridgestone is willing to share their tool. I believe The Hub has great potential if it is adopted by other companies. For one, Bridgestone has been smart in their approach. They are willing to share the questions they’ve inputted into The Hub, which could save the next company a good bit of time. This is a great way to get other companies up and running on tracking their own information requests. What’s more, I like that The Hub is solely created by a corporation. Had an NGO created this tool, they might structure it to collect information that fits with their own perspective of CSR. However, this tool assumes very little about what information is collected. Also, if this tool spreads between multiple companies, it might be possible for them to stand together on pairing down the flood of redundant requests. Instead of hundreds of pieces of information, maybe a coalition of companies could announce the 100 most important pieces of information they are willing to track.

If you’re a corporate responsibility professional who wants to start tracking requests to your company, I highly recommend reaching out to BCLC, and we will gladly put you in touch with Tim.