A week of trends, good and bad, for sustainability in business. Three landmark reports were released this past week that provide directional indicators of sustainability adoption by business and consumers.
First, the good trend: new models for supplier engagement. Apparel company Levis Strauss and Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups leading the charge on sustainable investments, co-authored a report that describes Levis’ new initiatives to engage suppliers on human rights. While this is an individual company case study, it’s part of a larger trend for more relational engagement of suppliers to address sustainability and social impact concerns. Companies like Levis, Nike, Ford, Dell, and Walmart are proving a new model for supplier engagement that we’ll likely see replicated and scaled in coming years.
Now the bad trends: U.S. business progress on sustainability is not on track and U.S. consumer participation in social causes declined. Ceres published a bold roadmap to corporate sustainability in 2010 and released a report this week announcing that progress is “disappointing”. Specifically, only a third of the 600 companies it studied had set time-bound greenhouse gas emissions targets, let alone made progress toward meeting them. Indicators for governance, human rights, and stakeholder engagement are equally discouraging.
On the consumer spectrum, a study by PR firm Edelman finds that consumers have actually decreased their involvement in social causes. Edelman tracks consumer involvement in social causes, which is a rough indicator of consumer preferences for brand alignment with social issues, according to the report. U.S. consumer involvement in a social cause dropped to 53 percent this year from 60 percent in 2010.
This isn’t news to anyone who works in this field. Sustainability department budgets are growing modestly, if at all, while many companies still have no goals or strategy and there’s no clear sign from investors, consumers, or regulators that sustainability is a top concern. The market just isn’t rewarding sustainability investments or sending clear signals to prompt further sustainability initiatives by companies.
Do we need more structural change such as fixing externalities, water and carbon pricing?