When it comes to corporate sustainability, it looks like the media -- who have so often been quick to shine the spotlight on other leading and lagging sectors -- are finally getting their own moment in the sun.
With calls growing louder for media companies to make substantive sustainability commitments, the Global Reporting Initiative has just unveiled its new media industry sustainability guidelines -- a set of indicators and questions designed to help companies measure the social, economic and environmental impacts of media companies on society.
The GRI release follows in the footsteps of other organizations calling for greater sustainability efforts from the media industry, which has been criticized for being slow to adopt change. The GRI media guidelines are just one component of a broader sustainability report released by GRI. According to the GRI, the media guidelines were developed in partnership with industry organizations.
"Media companies have a unique role to play in the sustainability field," said Marjolein Baghuis, the GRI's director of communications and network relations. "Not only can they manage their direct impacts [like carbon emissions, water and paper usage, energy consumption and staff treatment], but as a key creators and distributors of content, media companies also have an influence on what and how people think (the so-called brainprint), which is a large responsibility to bear."
While some major media companies have dipped their toes in sustainability waters, many have yet to adopt comprehensive policies that reach deep into company practices.
"Several companies in the media sector already create a sustainability report, but many of those only cover the direct impacts, mostly in the environmental and social areas. They do not cover the indirect impacts," Baghuis said.
Media companies may talk about sustainability in the boardroom, but when it comes to street level action, shortcomings exist.
"We often hear the question whether banks put their money where their mouth is, but with media companies it is almost the other way around: are we sure they are not putting their mouth where their money comes from?" Baghuis asked.
She said the media industry has no choice but to develop comprehensive sustainability measures.
"In order for organizations to be part of the transition to a sustainable economy, they will have to manage change," she said. "Change needs to take place within organizations, and in the way they interact with their stakeholders, jointly working towards a sustainability strategy and establishing focus within that strategy."
The guidelines pose a number of questions for media companies, including:
- How independent is the editorial staff?
- Does a media company encourage or hamper freedom of expression?
- What kind of blueprint is left behind about the many elements of sustainability?
- Do media provide an accurate picture of the sense of urgency required to make society aware of the need to change in the area of sustainability?
The benefits of adopting guidelines could be big. GRI reports that if companies follow through with sustainability efforts they potentially will see a competitive advantage, an enhanced reputation, and greater customer loyalty.
Baghuis said that adopting the guidelines will bring the industry closer towards real sustainable change.
"The creation of sector specific reporting guidelines (created by the industry) will help drive further change on how media companies view their sustainability impact and how they report on their progress," she said. "Pioneers in the sector already do this, but there are many yet to follow."