Ranking for success - why the reason CSR awards matter isn't the obvious one

December 16, 2015 Charlie Ashford

Charlie Ashford, Consultant at Corporate Citizenship, argues that the true value of CSR awards and rankings is much more than getting your name in the news.

Charlie Ashford, Consultant at Corporate CitizenshipIf you’re reading this, you’re probably planning (or at least considering) an entry to Business in the Community's Responsible Business Awards. But have you stopped to ask yourself why? 

The last few years have seen an explosion in the number of CSR rating schemes, from global indices down to local and industry-specific awards. The challenge for CSR practitioners is in understanding which are right for your business, and prioritising them. 

At Corporate Citizenship, we help companies respond to information requests from a wide range of CSR raters. And like a lot of our clients, we find ourselves grappling with some difficult questions: How do you measure the business benefits of such schemes? How effective are they at getting your company recognised? Do stakeholders really care about them? 

Questions like these prompted us to publish a short online briefing paper, giving our perspective on the “real value” of rankings, standards and awards.  

In our view, as nice as having your name in the Financial Times may be, the value of awards and rankings is not principally about raising your profile or improving your reputation. Instead, it’s about using the results to inform your business strategy and improve performance. 

That's certainly what we've heard from business. This summer, we surveyed hundreds of CSR practitioners about the leading sustainability ranking initiatives. Most reported significant business benefits from taking part in one or more initiative. For companies near the top of sustainability rankings, they’re an opportunity to check up on competitors’ performance and to identify emerging issues. For those lower down, they’re a valuable tool for driving progress.   

Of course, every company is different. A couple of years ago, we invited Lily Heinemann, Head of CR and Community Investment at Royal Mail, and Tracey Noe, Director, Corporate Responsibility at AbbVie, to join us on two webinars to share their particular insights. 

Both of them talked about how CSR awards and rankings have enabled them to benchmark best practice against peers and competitors, address gaps and identify emerging trends. They provide standardised frameworks for measurement and reporting, and can be used to inform targets (some companies have even linked performance on rankings to executive bonuses). They help raise the profile of CSR internally, engage employees and form linkages with wider corporate engagement and investor relations strategies. 

As Tracey said, “We don’t just mean generating positive media coverage, or having logos to put on a website or a slide. But rather, [using] the lessons we learned from going through the exercise to help build relationships with stakeholders that we care about.” 

So before you fill out your entry for the Responsible Business Awards, stop and think about what you hope to get out of them. Ask yourself how you will engage your colleagues, communicate the results to stakeholders and – most importantly – how you will use your results to become a leader in responsible business. 

Charlie Ashford is a Consultant at Corporate Citizenship, and Managing Editor of the Corporate Citizenship Briefing. Get in touch: charlie.ashford@corporate-citizenship.com.

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