We recently surveyed the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel to find out what strategies their companies employ when responding to sustainability surveys. We found that while surveys may arrive from many sources, including customers, socially responsible investment groups, or those who rate and rank companies, a few trends are clear. According to our panel, there are too many surveys, they need to be standardized, and there's a frustrating lack of transparency in the different methodologies.
Our survey, conducted between November 17 and 24, garnered 290 responses, with 52 percent from companies with revenues of more than $1 billion (which we define as "large companies").
Companies Responsive to Surveys -- Sometimes
There are two major categories of surveys companies are sent. Broadly speaking, there are surveys sent from their customers and surveys from independent groups such as socially responsible investment groups and ratings & rankings organizations. Figure 1 shows the number of customer responses to surveys from these independent groups in blue and the number of surveys from customers in red.
Customer surveys can be burdensome, with some large companies responding to more than 300 customer surveys each year. As one of our panel members noted "Customer surveys are the most important, but it would be of great value if industries, or consortia, or other groups would collaborate to create a shared survey. The range of questions (from "what is the weight of chemical x in your product" to "what have you learned from your sustainability program and what would you do differently") is mindboggling, and because they always require input from subject matter experts throughout the company, they can be very time-consuming to complete."
As time-consuming as customer surveys may be, they appear to be on the increase. While some have made news (see some of our coverage of P&G and Walmart scorecard announcements), 52 percent of the companies responding to our survey are currently sending questionnaires to their suppliers. According to our survey results, there is an exceptionally strong push by consumer products and technology companies to collect supplier data. But as one smaller company noted, "we spend nearly as much time responding to questions about our program as we do driving the program results." To characterize it another way, several of our survey respondents wondered if their customers are "checking a box" by sending these surveys or if it is truly being considered as an important criteria by their procurement group.
SRI and Other Independent Surveys -- Missing the Mark?
More than half the companies surveyed (54 percent) are filling out up to ten surveys from independent groups. The primary surveys companies are responding to include the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Climate Change and Emissions survey, Newsweek's Green Rankings, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). More than two-thirds of large companies respond to the CDP request, while slightly more than one half to the Newsweek request, and slightly less than half for the DJSI.