Survey of surveys 2012: Are companies just checking the box?

If someone conducted a survey on surveys, would anyone respond?

We just completed one — an effort to assess how many sustainability-related surveys companies are receiving, how much time they’re spending on responding to them, the tools they use, and other things. The good news: We got a solid response. The bad news: Companies are pretty grumpy on the topic.

When we conducted our first “survey of surveys” almost two years ago, the members of our GreenBiz Intelligence Panel provided a consistent response. “There are too many surveys, they need to be standardized, and there’s a frustrating lack of transparency in the different methodologies” (You can read more here).

Alas, this year’s results show that very little has changed as socially responsible investor groups, NGOs, and— perhaps most vexing, customers — keep sending out questionnaires. Sustainability executives are caught in a bind,. They can’t not respond, but they have serious questions about how the information will be used, if at all.

Our survey, conducted between late August and early September, garnered 341 responses, with 76 percent from companies with annual revenues of more than $1 billion (which we define as "large companies"). While little has changed in terms of the nature of surveys being received by businesses large and small, we were able to gain new insights into the various requests sustainability professionals must consider when allocating precious staff and time to these efforts.

A Strategy for Customer Surveys: Ask Backwards

An ironic twist on survey responders’ frustrations is that many of the companies that complain about the effectiveness of surveys are turning around and surveying their own supply-chain partners. One-fourth of survey respondents indicated that their companies respond to more than 25 customer surveys and 11 percent respond to more than 100 customer surveys.

Figure 1: Three sectors represent half of the responding companies with revenues over $1 billion

Next page: The victim becomes the hunter