Credibility gap persists around companies’ CSR communications

The credibility of corporate communications around issues of social and environmental responsibility is an increasingly serious problem for companies, according to GlobeScan’s latest global public tracking. In the ten countries tracked by GlobeScan over the past decade, fewer than two in five (38%) now say they believe companies communicate honestly about their social and environmental performance. Other findings reveal a consensus view that companies embrace CSR not because they are genuinely committed to it, but in order to improve their images.

This proportion is particularly low in the world’s most developed economies, where well under a third feel that corporate CSR communications are credible.

Our latest data also suggests that, by failing to address the credibility gap, companies may be missing the chance to engage constructively with an increasingly receptive public. An average of 72 percent in the same countries say they are “very interested” in learning more about what companies are doing to be socially and environmentally responsible—a figure that has risen sharply in many countries over recent years.

There is unlikely to be a single solution to the lack of credibility of companies’ communications around social and environmental responsibility. A franker approach to challenges that companies are facing, the increased use of independent third parties to critically appraise companies’ reporting, and an embrace of social media are all likely to play important roles.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

What drives a company’s reputation for responsibility – and how sector affects it

GlobeScan’s public attitudes tracking shows that the corporate world as a whole continues to suffer from a lack of trust in the eyes of consumers. Companies, and global ones in particular, are far less trusted than NGOs, and nearly half of citizens when polled this year were unable to call to mind a socially or environmentally responsible company when asked to do so.

However, the latest analysis of our findings reveals that the companies that are named as socially or environmentally responsible tend to cluster in a number of key sectors – with food companies the most frequently mentioned as socially responsible, and accounting for 13 percent of the total. As our chart this week shows – and as befits a highly consumer-facing sector, personal experience of a food company’s products or services is highly influential in making people feel that it is socially responsible, with advertising not far behind as a key information channel for communicating a sense of social responsibility.

Interestingly, though, it appears that a controversial sector does not have to be a bar to a positive reputation for responsibility for a company. Despite being rated as one of the least responsible sectors overall, oil companies are third most likely to be cited as examples of environmentally responsible companies (by 5%, same as electronic equipment / electrical appliances companies). Here, however, the consumer experience is far less significant in driving this perception, and news reports are the most significant channel by some distance – well ahead of the experience people have when filling up their cars. This highlights the need for companies seeking to engage consumers around issues of corporate responsibility to adapt the information channels they prioritize carefully according to their sector, or risk wasting precious time and budget.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Majorities in most countries optimistic we will make environmental progress in the coming decades

While a deal may be emerging at the Rio+20 sustainable development conference, it is already being criticized as inadequate to address pressing global challenges, particularly in terms of environmental protection and mitigating climate change. The inability of political leaders to agree to radical policies—changes that could prove unpalatable to their electorates in the midst of economic crisis—is often cited as a reason for the failure of recent UN summits to meet expectations.

Nonetheless, the latest GlobeScan public attitudes tracking suggests that most citizens around the world remain optimistic that progress on environmental protection will be made over the next two decades—and those in the world’s major emerging powers are significantly more optimistic than many of their developed-world counterparts.

Summit hosts Brazil, and China, emerge as the most bullish about the prospects of leaders making environmental progress in the decades to come (77% optimistic in both cases, with 35% very optimistic in Brazil). Emerging economic powers Indonesia and Mexico are not far behind. Among developed economies, Germans are the most optimistic (67%), followed by Americans (62%)—despite the US administration being widely seen as an obstacle to a more far-reaching agreement at Rio.

While optimists are also in the majority in the UK, Canada, and France, two in five or more are pessimistic in each of countries. However, the only country with a majority of pessimists is Greece—in keeping with the very downbeat worldview apparent in our recent polling there. This suggests that, overall, electorates may be more willing to accept a switch to environmentally sustainable policies than is sometimes assumed.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Increased Misgivings About NGO/Corporate Partnerships in Major Emerging Economies

As businesses seek ways to project credible messages about responsibility, many have been turning to partnerships with NGOs. This is not surprising—GlobeScan’s tracking indicates that public trust in NGOs continues to outstrip trust in business by a very significant margin, and most citizens in our global survey say that they would have increased respect for companies that choose to partner with NGOs.

However, GlobeScan’s latest monitoring of public sentiment on the issue suggests that the issue of partnerships is becoming more hazardous—for NGOs. A majority (53%) of those polled earlier this year across 23 countries say that their respect for a charity/NGO would go down if it chose to partner with a company. And this increased skepticism appears to be more pronounced in some major developing economies. Notably, the proportion in China who say they would lose respect for an NGO engaged in a corporate partnership has risen from 46% in 2003 to nearly four in five (78%) this year. There have also been significant rises in the proportions of such skeptics in India and Russia.

With the reputation of private business in these countries having been tainted by many high-profile corruption scandals, this may reflect public fear that NGOs’ independence and ability to act as rallying points for social change could be compromised. The rise in skepticism may also reflect misgivings about the coherence of existing corporate/NGO partnerships. On a recent GlobeScan webcast, SC Johnson’s Kelly Semrau stressed the importance of retaining “authenticity” when businesses and NGOs work together. These findings show this is also a preoccupation for consumers.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Developing world consumers more upbeat about economic impact of a Green Economy

It is often asserted that a responsible approach towards the environment is a luxury that emerging economies—with large proportions of their populations often remaining in poverty—are unable to afford, and that their top priority must be economic growth, whatever the cost.

However, GlobeScan’s and SustainAbility‘s most recent survey of global consumers, conducted in collaboration with National Geographic, shows that those in emerging economies are even more likely than their developed-world peers to reject the notion that environmental responsibility and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive.

The survey among consumers across 17 countries asked them to say whether they thought a Green Economy would be more or less effective than today’s economy in addressing a range of environmental and social challenges—and found that, globally, consumers thought a Green Economy would be more effective in all areas except for the creation of low-paying jobs.

Consumers in emerging economies are much more optimistic about the overall impact of a Green Economy than those in industrialized countries—particularly on “improving quality of life.” In those emerging economies, net expectations of the Green Economy’s effectiveness at “improving quality of life” are nearly 20 points higher than in developed economies. Similarly, the Green Economy’s effectiveness at “increasing long-term economic growth,” “reducing poverty,” and “creating high-paying jobs” is rated much more highly in emerging economies than in industrialized ones, as this chart shows.

Emerging-economy governments—notably in China—having taken a hard-line stance against tougher environmental targets in international climate negotiations in the past, but these findings suggest that they may be underestimating their peoples’ ability to take a long-term view.

 

Finding from a recent Regeneration Roadmap press release on Green Economy.  

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Economic crisis obscuring citizens’ perception of increased prosperity

The ongoing economic crisis appears to be having a negative influence on the global public’s judgment of progress on economic wellbeing, according to our latest global polling.

When asked to evaluate the state of progress on societal challenges over the last twenty years, people across 22 countries were more likely to feel that environmental protection and creating healthier and more equitable societies had got better over that period than felt the same way about improved economic wellbeing, which nearly as many felt had got worse (36%) as felt it had improved (39%).

These findings suggest that current socioeconomic difficulties may be making it difficult for citizens to perceive the widespread increase in living standards over the last two decades, which has been particularly marked in middle-income countries such as Brazil, India and China. Not surprisingly, these are the three countries most likely to perceive an improvement in economic wellbeing over the period, while troubled European and North American economies, particularly Greece, are the least likely.

The findings are drawn from The Regeneration Roadmap, GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s collaboration aimed at generating a roadmap for sustainable development over the coming years.

 

Finding from The Regeneration Roadmap, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Chinese consumers use social media to learn about CSR

In the past few years the internet has become a widely used tool for Chinese people to access information that would otherwise not be available, such as critical information about the government, but also for consumers to learn about the social and environmental responsibility of companies. In response to the banning of global social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Chinese internet users have instead developed their own widely used platforms for social networking and microblogging. China now boasts more than double the internet users of the USA, and more than 300 million Chinese consumers use social media according to a recent survey by McKinsey.

Chinese consumers use their newfound access to information to find information about the behaviour of companies; recent findings from GlobeScan’s 2012 Radar research programme shows that Chinese consumers are much more likely than consumers in other key markets to use social media to discover how responsibly companies are behaving on social, as well as environmental, issues. Compared to British or American consumers, the Chinese are twice as likely to claim they use social media to learn about CSR.

In 2011, several corporate scandals in China were uncovered and spread through social media, such as food safety problems of China’s largest meat processor Shuanghui, tainted Mengniu milk products, and a cover-up by authorities of the oil spill in the gulf of Bohai by the American company ConocoPhillips. As more scandals emerge, Chinese consumers are becoming more alert to corporate misbehaviour and increasingly eager to spread the word online.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Africans More Upbeat Than Rest of World About Foreign Investment in the Continent

The recent wave of foreign investment in Africa—much of it from China—has started to transform the employment situation and infrastructure in parts of the continent. According toThe Economist, trade between China and Africa surpassed $120 billion in 2010, and it is claimed that China has given more loans to Africa over the past two years than the World Bank. Despite the controversy surrounding China’s new-found influence in the continent—with concern as to whether the benefits of the investment stay in Africa or are all repatriated to China—GlobeScan’s recent public attitudes poll for BBC World Service suggests that Africans themselves are much more relaxed about it than much of the rest of the world.

A narrow majority of those we polled across 22 countries at the end of last year saw foreign investment in Africa as a very or somewhat good thing for the continent, with around one in four holding the opposite view. However, the results indicate that some of the world’s major donor countries have misgivings. A majority of Germans (56%) and significant minorities of French (44%), Spaniards (40%), Britons and Americans (both 32%) think it is a bad thing.

In contrast, the four African countries in our sample all have very large majorities feeling that the foreign investment is a positive thing, with support highest in Nigeria (85%), but also very high in Kenya (75%), Ghana (72%), and Egypt (71%).

 

Finding from a February 2012 GlobeScan/BBC Poll

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Global Consumer Sentiment Remains Polarized

GlobeScan’s most recent tracking of consumer confidence around the world confirms that to talk about “global” economic sentiment is somewhat misleading.

The polarized picture we have noted in recent years continues, with consumers in the world’s major industrialized economies remaining predominately downbeat, while those in some of the major emerging economies are more likely to feel positive about their financial situation.

Notably, despite increasing talk of an economic slowdown, Chinese consumers appear much more upbeat about their financial situation than they did in 2011. The situation in India is more balanced, although those who report that their financial situation is better than last year still outnumber those who feel worse off than a year ago.

The contrast with the G7 is stark. If the recent improvement in US unemployment figures is translating into less negative sentiment among consumers there, the same cannot be said in France or, particularly, the UK, where sentiment remains heavily negative. There is little sign that Western consumers are ready to be the motor of any sustained economic recovery.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Awareness of corporate CSR activity among public has stalled

Despite the ever-increasing attention being paid by many companies to developing and communicating a responsible approach to business, there is little evidence that consumers are connecting with the CSR and sustainability efforts being made by the corporate world.

GlobeScan’s international tracking reveals that the number of consumers across 26 countries who said they knew a lot about what companies were doing to improve their social and environmental performance actually decreased slightly between 2009 and 2011, while the proportion saying they were not well informed increased.

While this may reflect greater focus on companies’ financial performance (and job losses) during the recession, it may also reflect the disconnect that continues to exist in many companies between marketing and communications functions and CSR/sustainability functions. Our research suggests that many consumers and stakeholders have not yet been engaged by the way companies try to show what they are doing to be more responsible, and view corporate claims in this area with continuing skepticism.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2011 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)