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IBM: Firms want to be responsible, but lack proper data

natureWhile senior business executives say they’re committed to improving their commitments to corporate social responsibility, many of their firms aren’t gathering the right information they need to do so, according to a new survey by IBM.

IBM’s second annual global corporate social responsibility (CSR) found that nearly all of the 224  respondents said they want to incorporate CSR principles into their business strategies to improve business performance, societal contribution and reputation.

However, the survey also found that most firms aren’t collecting the right data, aggregating it often enough, gathering information from global supply chain partners or learning enough about the concerns of key stakeholders, especially customers.

Only 19 per cent of the firms surveyed, for example, are collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions weekly or more frequently. The rest are collecting it no more than monthly, and most only quarterly — ample perhaps for meeting government or stakeholder demands for information, but not nearly enough to make systemic changes that would reduce environmental impact.

“Our survey participants clearly understand that integrating CSR considerations into their business strategies is essential to their growth and performance,” said Eric Riddleberger, IBM’s business strategy consulting global leader. “But it’s also pretty obvious many of them don’t know what they need to know to actually make changes that would improve both business performance and societal impact.”

Companies are coming under increasing pressure from governments, advocacy groups, investors, prospective employees, and consumers to make their operations, products and services more socially responsible. This covers a range of topics, including environmental concerns, labor practices, product safety and traceability, and procurement practices. At the same time, they are under tremendous economic pressure to reduce costs and increase efficiency wherever possible.

The IBM survey found that only 30 per cent of respondents’ firms are collecting data frequently enough to make strategic decisions that address inefficiencies across eight major categories: carbon dioxide, water, waste, energy, sustainable procurement, labor standards, product composition and product lifecycle. Twenty-four percent collect this information monthly, while another 32 per cent do so no more than quarterly.

When dealing with their supply chains, most firms are even more lax, the survey finds. Twenty-nine per cent don’t collect any data at all from their supply chains, and eight out of 10 don’t gather supplier data for carbon dioxide and water.

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