Here's one sustainability list your company wants to avoid

Corporate Responsibility magazine's "Black List" is the negative outtake of its 100 Best Corporate Citizens ranking, highlighting the least-transparent companies when it comes to sustainability.

This is one ranking your company does not want to land on: Corporate Responsibility magazine's new "Black List" for the best-known companies that DO NOT make any sorts of public statements or declarations about their corporate sustainability intentions.

For the first time this year, the magazine is publishing what is essentially the negative outtake of its "Best 100 Corporate Citizens List." The Best Corporate Citizens list is one you WANT to be on: it recognizes the top 100 companies from within the Russell 1000 index that have established meaningful programs for environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility. A combination of financial metrics and public disclosure metrics are used to place and rate the companies on that list.

Up until now, the bottom of the list -- the companies that chose not to participate for whatever reason -- has not been published. But now, CR magazine has identified 58 companies that it believes represent the "least-transparent companies" on the Russell 1000. It released the list after several years of pressure to do so. The magazine uses the same methodology to come up with this list as it does for the positive one. That is, the magazine and its research partner IW Financial from Portland, Maine, look at metrics in these areas: Climate change, Employee relations, Environment, Financial, Governance, Human rights, and Philanthrophy.

There are some very well-known companies on this list, including Dreamworks, Madison Square Garden, and Nasdaq. The most-represented sector is financial services (with 32 of the list's members) followed by energy and consumer products/healthcare. And here's the thing. We don't know one way or another whether or not the companies on CR magazine's Black List are actually offenders in the corporate sustainability sense. What's at issue is their lack of transparency, from the magazine's point of view.

In his commentary about the list, CR Editor-in-chief Dirk Olin notes:

"This is not a survey. It is an involuntary audit of presumptively public information. The standard is not proof of superhuman altruism or the emptying of corporate coffers into the pockets of widows and orphans. The standard is not even minimal environmental or governance performance, much less best practices. The standard is simply disclosure."

The way off the "Black List" is pretty simple, according to the CR magazine editors. Disclose information about corporate social responsibility or sustainability to an organization such as the Carbon Disclosure Project. Publish something about your human rights record on your Web site. Disclose even just one bit of information, and you won't find your way into the hall of shame next year.

Some may feel that this Black List is forcing some companies' hands before they are ready. I'm not a fan of greenwashing; I don't condone sustainability marketing for the sake of publicity. But I do appreciate transparency. As a reporter, I have always respected honesty and tended to view more favorably the companies that have treated me in an upfront manner.

From my point of view, this visibility (albeit negative) will help raise the internal call to action for sustainability strategy at these companies or at least encourage them to talk about the things they are already doing. Either way, they have another year to decide how to get their act together for the next CR list.

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