When Winning Sustainability Awards Is Not Enough

What should I do, as a blogger writing about sustainability, when I am halfway through a blog about a company that is doing great things in the area of sustainability, and then discover they have been called out on a whole lot of other issues, not linked to climate change, but not in keeping with many of the Sustainable Development Goals?

There seemed to be lots to applaud, it seemed like a good company to feature. Sometimes, we need organizations to make it easy for us to change our habits, to present us with readymade solutions to how to reduce our carbon footprint. And that’s what this company has been doing for a wide range of UK clients in the private and public sectors, from banks and retailers to hospitals, schools and other state facilities. It has won an edie Award for its sustainable leadership

I was particularly taken by the fact that the board had a ‘Social Value & Responsible Business Committee’, whose report includes this passionate commitment to addressing climate change: “Our business serves society, and society can only exist on a liveable, breathable planet.”

Several hours into my blog research (each blog takes about a day to research and refine) I found reports from credible sources that this company has had a track record of paying low wages and attempting to pay workers less than minimum wage. It’s been the subject of a Competition and Markets Authority investigation into “suspected anticompetitive conduct”. It’s had to apologise for racist staff, and for housing vulnerable people in “very poor conditions”.

If I’m brutally honest I considered completing the blog, and pretending I hadn’t come across this material. But you can’t unsee what you have seen. I found myself thinking of Paul Polman and his Net Positive approach: his call to leaders and companies is not just to address climate change but also to address what Polman calls “the elephants in the room”.

It’s very tough being a CEO, Senior Exec or board member of a company today. The challenges are myriad, and the standards they are being held to are very high – but they need to be if we are to create a better world.

The decision to bin this particular company blog is in the halfpenny place in comparison to the decisions these companies face. This blog, with its focus on stories of businesses that are inspiring and generating hope, is intended to applaud those that get them right.

 Back to the drawing board…

This is the seventeenth in a year-long series of weekly blogs by Jean Callanan telling stories of businesses and brands that are doing inspiring and innovative things in addressing #climatechange and creating a better world. Check out more here.