No matter the industry, business stakeholders care about lists – who’s on them and who’s on top. Consider this small sampling: Fast Company’s “50 Most Innovative Companies” list, Fortune’s “Change the World” list, Forbes’ “The World’s Most Reputable Companies” list, or Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work.
Companies spend countless hours every year applying to appear on these lists, vying for the top spot and the ability to market that recognition to customers, investors, and employees. Just think, how many email signatures have you seen that end with “voted the best/most [fill in the blank] company for three years in a row”?
There are myriad psychological reasons why lists are so effective, popular and valuable. In the sustainability field, numerous rankings have emerged to help stakeholders assess corporate environmental performance and identify leaders from among the hundreds that have made environmental commitments.
Beyond bragging rights, sustainability rankings can also provide an essential service to companies by helping them define internal performance measures, attract top talent and link executive compensation to corporate sustainability.
Unfortunately, there’s a significant problem with these sustainability lists.
At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.
This is the sixth in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.
I’ve worked with many business leaders over the course of my career, and there are few more forward-thinking on sustainability and environmental innovation than Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO of Cummins, Inc.
As head of the largest independent maker of diesel engines and related products in the world, Tom has set lofty environmental goals for Cummins, including cutting energy intensity from company facilities by a third by 2020.
Under Tom’s leadership, sustainability and community engagement have become core parts of company culture – including efforts to establish technical education programs around the world to lift youth out of poverty and publicly favoring tough, science-based and enforceable environmental regulations.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Tom and learn more about the formation of Cummins’ sustainability goals and the importance of long-term protective standards in the trucking industry.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
Why is it that some environmentalists feel the need to play whack-a-mole whenever a leading brand peeks its head above the fray to publicly declare a corporate sustainability achievement?
I’m not going to cite specifics – just look at the comments section of any major news outlet covering a big brand sustainability announcement – but I do want to address the negative impact this has on business stepping up for the environment.
As an environmental NGO with a history of working in the trenches with powerful businesses, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) often gets to play the mole role. We’ve endured our share of slings and arrows since first partnering with McDonald’s over 25 years ago, so I can empathize with companies who are reticent to step up and publicly acknowledge the sustainability work they are doing.
EDF has thick skin and a singular mission to forge solutions that help people and nature thrive. It’s not always the same for major brands that have to balance the needs of shareholders, suppliers, employees, communities, and yes, the planet. It’s difficult to step forward and share sustainability stories when doing so invites backlash. I get it.
While environmentalists push for change in corporate business and policy practices, we must also adjust our attitudes in working with and encouraging those businesses who are trying to make a difference.
Basic behavioral psychology leads me to believe that if we want more major companies innovating, executing and sharing best corporate sustainability practices, the whack-a-mole approach needs to stop. Read more