How to Tell Your Company's CSR Story

Oct 4, 2011 5:00 PM ET

CSRHUB Blog by Cynthia Figge

This post was originally presented by CSRHUB COO and co-founder Cynthia Figge at the 2011 ISSP Portland conference, where she was a speaker, and published on the CSRHUB blog. For a summary of the key trends emerging in CSR reporting, please scroll to the end of this article. 

If you are doing sustainability work, your mission is nothing short of the transformation of the global economy. This is a confrontational time, when we are called on to translate old business language into new, honor the hard work of capitalism while fundamentally disrupting our prevailing business models, and bridge the divide of left and right, while speaking in ways that bring us together to a common purpose. It’s a journey that requires deep interweaving and skill.

My own sustainability journey began in 1995 when I read An Ecology of Commerce. The following year I cofounded the sustainability strategy firm, EKOS International, and traveled to Sweden to meet Karl-Henrik Robert, this year’s ISSP Hall of Fame inductee. I had the privilege of meeting John Holmberg, the physicist who developed the Four System Conditions of the Natural Step – the steps he determined were necessary to create a sustainable society. My partners and I returned to the U.S. quite certain that a great American business awakening was around the corner.

That was 15 years ago, but I’m still very hopeful. As Amory Lovins says, hope is a sense, not an assessment. In the late 90s EKOS created a now-iconic expression of sustainability – three overlapping circles representing the integration of the systems of ecological capital, human capital and economic capital. We dubbed businesses operating at this place of integration as ‘operating at the nexus,’ and we are still daring to imagine and working to build shared meaning around the idea.   

In 2008 I cofounded CSRHUB to make transparent corporate progress in sustainability performance, accessible to everyone. We are a B Corporation, and over three years we have built a searchable database providing sustainability ratings and data on about 5,000 publicly traded companies in 65 countries. With five million data elements from 130 sources of information, we provide environment, employee, community and governance performance scores.  We are capitalizing on the great trends of big dataset analysis, cloud hosting, social media connection, and personal passion.

We are in a period of discovery and invention, on the way to a sustainable economy. As consumers, managers, investors, government, and activists, we’re anxious to know how companies are doing.

Sustainability Data Demand

There are five broad groups of demand for sustainability data. First, socially responsible investing is a growing area. Traditional investors, including private equity firms, are also beginning to demand information not only on risk assessment, but the opportunity for upside and profit from sustainability. Activists and ardent consumers (enthusiasts) are increasing demand for information.

A friend’s 12-year-old daughter has stopped buying products from PINK, the Victoria’s Secret brand, because of their animal testing. She has at least a dozen search tools on her iTouch to screen products and companies for animal testing, organics, and other special issues. Corporate communications, PR, brand, IR, sustainability, EHS and supply chain managers are all in need of comparative data on their own company and their competitors’ performance.

There are many sources of data to meet the increasing need to know how companies are doing.  The major categories include:

  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI aka ESG) Analysts and Indexes. SRI analysts include Asset4 (Thomson Reuters)GovernanceMetrics InternationalIW FinancialMSCITrucostEIRIS,Sustainalytics, and Vigeo. They cover companies with median annual revenues around US $2.4 billion and 97% of the companies are developed or emerging economies. Indexes include the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index, the FTSE4Good Index Series, and the NASDAQ OMX CRD Global Sustainability Index.

  • Government and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) including the EPAUNGCGSA,DoD.

  • Crowd Based Sources: Glassdoor (covers 110,000 companies in 100 countries, and 3.5 million people visit per month) and Wikipositive (913 companies covered and 91 contributor research on corporate CSR).

  • Corporate Social Responsibility Reports: More than 3,000 companies worldwide now publish sustainability reports, including two-thirds of the Fortune Global 500. 

The trend is clear – there is an ever-increasing demand for real time information about company sustainability performance. Hockey player Wayne Gretzky has described his strategy as skating to where the puck is going to be. Companies today can use that same metaphor to understand the sustainability ratings market, where the demand for information is moving rapidly – much like Gretzky’s puck – toward sustainability transparency. Reporting, companies will see the growing benefits of skating toward where the puck will be, and scoring in the sustainability department.

At CSRHUB we list 130 sources and, as a hub, link back to each of them. Each company profile in our database includes a list of the sources that rate that company. Since we started aggregating data in 2008, the number of available sources has nearly doubled.

The Disclosure Gap   

Despite the demand for data, corporate CSR disclosure by individual companies remains uncommon and weak. According to Corporate Register (who has the best library in the world of these reports)only about 36% of the approximately 5,000 companies we follow at CSRHUB have now released one or more non-financial reports on their performance (only 20% for U.S. based companies). The percentage of smaller companies that provide CSR reports is dramatically less. A recently completed survey of the companies in CSRHUB’s database found that only about 55% have CSR-related websites, which we have incorporated into our company profiles on each company’s page on our website.  

The UN Global Compact (UNGC), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), encourage companies to regularly report on a comprehensive set of well-defined metrics for their environment, social, governance (ESG) performance. U.S. participation in the UN Global Compact and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is also low, but growing. Forty-four percent of our approximately 5,000 companies make disclosures to the CDP, an exciting and positive indication of demand fueled by investors.

Although CSRHUB is one of the largest databases of rated companies in the world, its ratings cover only a fraction of the global number of publicly traded companies and smaller private companies. Part of the problem is that investment analysts tend to focus on large companies. Seventy-one percent of SRI rated companies report revenues between $1-10 billion. So we need more self-reporting.

Why Report?

If you are working with a public or private company or organization, there are important benefits of reporting. Continue reading about the benefits of CSR reporting. 


Cynthia Figge, Cofounder and COO of CSRHUB is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Cynthia has worked with major organizations including BNSF, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Jones, and REI to help craft sustainability strategy integrated with business. She was an Officer of LIN Broadcasting/McCaw Cellular leading new services development, and started a new “Greenfield” mill with Weyerhaeuser. She serves as Advisor to media and technology companies, and served as President of the Board of Sustainable Seattle. Cynthia has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Cynthia is based in the Seattle area.   CSRH17384