How do companies deal with mushrooming sustainability data requests coming in from all directions – raters, investors, B2B customers? Bridgestone Americas’ Director of Environmental Affairs, Tim Bent, decided to get systematic about it – working with PivotGoals project manager Jeff Gowdy, they created a Sustainability Hub to interface the company’s environmental, social, governance and economic data with incoming questionnaires.
When they shared their story at events such as #NewMetrics, other companies commiserated over similar survey fatigue. A joint problem, Bent and Gowdy figured, deserves a shared solution, so they’re exploring how to free the Hub up for others to use. And in that same spirit, they’re opening up the conversation on how to do so to a collaborative inquiry, in a virtual ThinkTank. They’re inviting in those they’ve been brainstorming with already, as well as any other interested stakeholders. Click here to join the ongoing dialogue.
Bill Baue: Tim, what's the story behind the creation of Bridgestone's Sustainability Hub? Is there a moment you can describe where the light bulb illuminated the need for such a resource? And after this realization, what steps did you have to take to go from concept to reality?
Tim Bent: The concept for Bridgestone Americas’ Sustainability Reporting Hub (aka “the Hub”) formed while we were working on a content revamp for our environmental website, OneTeamOnePlanet.com, along with a growing inbox of customer sustainability survey responses. We wanted to ensure that the website met stakeholder expectations and desires – and we needed a method to best decide which and how much information to include. We wanted to keep it readable and interesting.
One primary stakeholder group is the sustainability rating “agencies” (such as CDP, Corporate Knights, DJSI, Newsweek, etc – call them Raters). The Raters can make a real difference in establishing the value of the information, since they use corporate websites and reports to pull the information/data for their evaluations, and stockholders may buy or sell based on their ratings. So we also wanted to publicly present the best set of metrics for the Raters.
That’s when we realized that by gathering the Raters’ criteria, we could optimize our “outbound” (website) information with the “inbound” (Raters and customers requests) information by linking them. We could have everything in one place, strategically prioritized. We also recognized additional benefits: we could ensure quality and efficient access by enabling subject matter experts (SMEs) and users to contribute, update or extract information directly.
So we got to work on compiling the raters’ criteria – that was a substantial task. We then sorted them by category – namely Environmental, Social, Governance, Financial – and ranked them by importance according to our needs.
That way we narrowed the list of “questions” to answer from about 500 down to the “top 80” – those that were the most common and the most material. It was about a 50/50 split, with 38 “most common” questions and 43 for “most material” questions for a total of 81. After we stabilized the list, we began querying SMEs.
Baue: Synchronizing inbound rater survey requests with outbound Website communications makes sense (I remember covering the issue of "survey fatigue" and the "Rashomon Effect" of sustainability ratings in the early 2000s). Before scoping into the details, I want to scope out to the broader context: How does the Hub fit into the bigger picture of sustainability ratings – for example, the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR) and attempts to address survey fatigue (such as OneReport)?
Bent: The concept of GISR, a globally agreed standard for sustainability performance, is certainly one we agree with, and in essence, what we are trying to achieve with the Hub. I'm pretty confident that universal sustainability performance standards will eventually be adopted - but when? (As a benchmark, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) first attempted to establish guidelines for financial reporting practices in 1917, but FASB wasn't adopted until 1973.) Now we have the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) moving in parallel with GISR, as well as GRI and IIRC – they each have their own ‘universe’ of coverage. So I think true convergence is still a long way off.
As of now, sustainability reporting (both "outbound" - websites and "inbound" - supplier questionnaires) is extremely diverse. Raters and our customers ask widely varying questions - the Hub is designed to accommodate that diversity in an efficient manner. If the Hub concept were to move into the public sector (via a shared, web-based data management service), companies could continue reporting, querying suppliers and answering customers' diverse questions in one place.
OneReport is the closest I've seen to such functionality, but I don't think it includes raters information or customer surveys.
Baue: How has your Sustainability Hub been received by your Subject Matter Experts?
Bent: The Hub has been very well received by our SMEs, because they are only asked for information once per update (annually as of now), or even less if the information hasn't changed. This is compared to the formerly random and much more frequent inquiries they may have received before we consolidated the information.