Ipsos Corporate Reputation

SHARED VALUE: THE CORPORATE IMPERATIVE?

As the demand for businesses to create shared social and environmental value increases, and the climate change doomsday clock counts down, Council members are seeing corporates coming to terms with their role in society. But businesses face significant challenges in closing the say-do gap and meaningfully embedding sustainability in their strategies and business models.

“The need for companies to deliver genuine value, as opposed to tokenistic corporate responsibility policy, that’s built into the company’s core purpose is becoming increasingly pronounced.”

The US Business Roundtable (BRT) last year dropped its commitment to “shareholder primacy”1 in favour of shared value. Accordingly, and by the “modern standard for corporate responsibility,”2 businesses must focus on creating value for all stakeholders, including consumers, employees, supply chains, governments, civil society and the planet, as well as shareholders.

Some commentators treated the BRT’s statement with scepticism – Larry Summers, for example described it as a “rhetorical embrace”3 aimed at warding off real regulatory change.

Or as old news – since at least the 1960s, organisations have had Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies with the broad goal of,“contributing to the well-being of the communities and society they affect and on which they depend.”4

But for many Council members, the BRT’s announcement does signal something real and burgeoning. Shared value is not the same as CSR, it’s argued. While CSR is essentially philanthropic and extrinsic, shared value requires that environmental and social value become functions of business’ operations themselves.

It’s this shift, say members, that poses a major challenge. It raises profound questions about what exactly shared value looks like, and how to measure it? How fundamentally should or can businesses adapt? And how quickly? And how to communicate intrinsic changes in a way that cuts through with stakeholders?

“Companies are trying to figure out the balance between responsibility to shareholders and to society. We were doing positive things before the BRT statement, but it has brought focus.”

“The debate has been going in that direction for the thick end of a decade, at least in terms of talk. So, the reaction is, “yes of course,” and the next question is, “what are you going to do about it?”

THE INCREASING DEMAND FOR MEANINGFUL ACTION

In dropping a credo it’s held since 1997, the BRT is reacting to demand for environmental and social action that is radically increasing. Much of this demand is directed at business.

To complicate matters, it comes from multiple stakeholders across many issues. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example, cover 17 areas of sustainable development, from sanitation to gender equality to education. Every one of these to a greater or lesser degree presents a challenge for businesses. Each is a potential lens of scrutiny, with discoveries likely to be amplified and distorted online.

Expectations of corporate citizenship have increased. Last year, more than half of Council members (56%) said that consumers expected them to take a stand on socio-political issues, against only a quarter (23%) who disagreed.5

“I think we live in a new and much more complex world within which it isn’t just shareholder value that means everything. I think corporates are generally aware of their place in society now more than ever.”

For some members, the driving force behind this change is the millennial generation (born around 1980-2000) – which, based on some projections will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025 – flexing their muscles as citizens, consumers and of course employees.

“You have work forces, in particular the millennial work forces, that are legitimately concerned about sustainability and corporate responsibility in terms of whether they want to work for a company.”

But there’s evidence that the investment community is catching up. Increasingly businesses are evaluated on non-financial, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), metrics alongside more traditional financial metrics. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s recent letter to investors claims that, “investors are increasingly reckoning with these questions and recognizing that climate risk is investment risk.”6 And BlackRock now claims that, “sustainable investing is the strongest foundation for client portfolios going forward.”7

The factor that really “changes everything,”8 however, that underpins the shift to shared value, is climate change. It is both an existential threat and, “the wickedest kind of problem imaginable: complex, interconnected, and requiring massive collective action.”9 It raises the stakes for what counts as value, and makes demonstrable action and impact a necessity for any organisation. It makes ‘greenwashing’ a threat to reputation rather than an asset. In sum, “climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.”10

IN THIS WAVE, MORE THAN HALF OF MEMBERS (57%) SAY THAT BUSINESS LEADERS ARE NOW OVERTAKING POLITICIANS AS A FORCE FOR PROGRESSIVE CHANGE IN THE WORLD; WOULD THIS HAVE BEEN THE CASE JUST 10 YEARS AGO?

“All of us can see that the investment community is really much, much more interested now in the way that businesses operate beyond just the financials. Financials stay important but it is about how people do business and we see that all the time in our analyst briefings or when we go out to meet the investment houses.”

“This is how sustainability is moving – from communications to true business. Greenwashing was about communication, now the finance industry thinks of sustainability as financial survival.”

“Because of the actions of Greta Thunberg and the spotlight that Extinction Rebellion has placed on the environment, I think all businesses have got to take responsibility and accountability for sustainability.”

“Investors rate us on our sustainability practices. I think that today everyone has a sustainability imperative.”

THE SAY-DO GAP

A study by Boston Consulting Group and MIT in the US in 2016 found that, while 90% of executives described sustainability as important, only 60% of companies had incorporated it in their strategy, and just 25% had it incorporated in their business models.

Four years on, for many Council members, particularly outside Europe, crossing this chasm from recognition to meaningful action remains a key challenge.

 “I think companies are finding it quite hard after the first wave of enthusiasm for green topics, where they said lots of nice things, to embed that into what they actually do day to day.”

“At present, keywords such as Sustainable Development Goals are flying around in Japan and there is consciousness about instilling social purpose into business purposes, but I think that many companies are wondering how to do it.”

While the majority of Council members consider the shift towards shared value to be a long-term trend, there is much less agreement that a company’s performance on sustainability is currently important in determining valuation.

As these responses reveal, the say-do gap is partly based on a perceived tension between short and long-term priorities. Still, for many businesses, financial and sustainable aims are seen as different in kind. Companies and CEOs are seen to live or die based on financial metrics, and investors care far less about an organisation’s performance on ESG metrics.

The US Business Roundtable, consisting of CEOs from some of the country’s biggest companies, recently issued a statement saying that shareholder value was no longer the overriding corporate priority and that companies should have a broader social purpose and remit.

Some hedge fund managers may be more interested in immediate returns, as opposed to pension funds that want long-term sustainable returns which can only come if a business is planning to be sustainable.”

If your business is run through short-term measures all the time, would you ever put money into doing something that might not return an investment for 5 years, when CEOs are only there for 3 years?”

If economic conditions deteriorate, unless you can show immediate ROI or growth because of the strength of being sustainability-oriented, you’re going to see companies get right back to basics.”

Understood in this way, sustainability and purpose remain a risk and a cost to businesses.

Meanwhile, the Harvard Business Review enumerates the benefits of creating shared value: competitive advantage through stakeholder engagement, improving risk management, fostering innovation, improving financial performance and building customer loyalty.11 And at the same time, there are plenty of warnings about the long-term threats of failing to adapt. For example, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England warned businesses in 2019 that those who don’t move towards zero-carbon emissions will ultimately go bankrupt, “without question.”12

So, what our Council members highlight is that, while there’s a growing long-term business case for focusing on shared value, the shift in mindset required to set this in motion is proving difficult in the short-term.

APPROACHES TO CLOSING THE SAY-DO GAP

Clearly, the scale of this challenge differs by company and industry. In some cases, there appears a fundamental tension between historical business models and sustainability – for example, in extractive industries or ‘fast’ fashion. This inevitably impacts the rate of change. But the lesson from Council members, is that companies that are performing well on sustainability are at least moving towards, “a sustainable approach that is not an add-on but is integral, integrated to their business and their strategy and their purpose.”

EXAMPLES GIVEN BY COUNCIL MEMBERS OF BUSINESSES THAT STAND OUT AS BEING AT THE CUTTING-EDGE OF SUSTAINABILITY TEND TO FALL INTO ONE OR MORE OF FOUR CATEGORIES.

01. DELIVERING SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS

For some businesses, sustainability is the key feature of a product. Council members cite Telsa’s electric cars as a good example of this type. Oil companies that are investing in renewable energy also fall into this category, though there is a long way to go before they become providers of a sustainable product. The technology sector may count, as it focuses on offering the technology to underpin sustainability efforts of others.

02. CLEANING UP SUPPLY CHAINS

As the focus on sustainability increases, supply chains continue to be a problem for many companies – sourcing of resources, labour conditions, air miles. Innovation in packaging also falls under this banner, in that by reducing the use of plastics, businesses are aiming to reduce a harmful by-product of distribution. For Council members, Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola are good examples of businesses focusing on this area.

 03. COMMITTING TO OBJECTIVE TARGETS

Several companies identified by Council members have made commitments that align to external standards. Microsoft, for example, has committed to aligning its operations with the UN’s recommended target of 1.5°C global warming by 2030, a commitment certified by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi). Danone is aiming to become a B corporation, thus will be legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

04. BECOMING CORPORATE ‘ACTIVISTS’

Some companies are conspicuous in supporting particular external causes. Patagonia is a flag-bearer for this approach, committing a percentage of its revenue to support grass roots climate movements. Though clearly it could not do this if it did not also commit to other behaviours (e.g. clean supply chains). Another example would be Coca-Cola, which directly supports the Global Environment and Technology Foundation’s work in Africa to replenish water sources.

 Each of these approaches does something to incorporate sustainability into strategy or business model, and offers established paths for other companies to start to cross the say-do gap towards shared value. And the greatest value, of course, is likely to be delivered through a combination of these approaches.

KEY PRINCIPLES

COUNCIL MEMBERS IDENTIFY SEVERAL PRINCIPLES THAT UNDERPIN ANY OF THESE STRATEGIES:

“Above all, as one Reputation Council member puts it, the future must be ‘action-leadership’, not just ‘thought-leadership.’”

01. MAKE COMMITMENTS THAT INSPIRE

Commitments need to be fundamentally meaningful, credible and inspiring to a range of stakeholders, including governments, customers, employees and investors. Every business needs to assess what issues it is best placed to address and whether these issues are really the important ones for its stakeholders. And all businesses need to make commitments on climate change. To do these things, they must be prepared to innovate.

02. MEASURE SHARED VALUE

There’s an adage: “what gets measured, gets managed.” Measurement of stakeholder opinion should also inform strategy and communications, while helping provide evidence of the effectiveness of a business’ commitments. Council members see ESG-style measurement as key, in that it links directly to the financial performance of businesses and CEOs.

03. EVIDENCE-BASED COMMUNICATIONS

There is broad agreement that greenwashing is finished. Communications should be evidence-based, and tailored to the priorities of different stakeholder groups. Commitments should be embedded in the corporate narrative that companies tell internally and externally.

IN SUMMARY:

  1. Businesses are facing significant challenges in moving from CSR to creating shared value.
  2. While businesses recognise the long-term importance of shared value, there is a tension for some between this and short-term priorities; this tension underpins the say-do gap.
  3. There are existing paradigms to help companies begin to cross this gap: focusing on sustainable products, cleaning up supply chains, making meaningful commitments or engaging in corporate activism.
For references in this article, please see page 21 in the full report.

Reputation on the rise: Safeguarding your brand reputation through investment in cyber security

There is a difference, it seems, between knowing something and really knowing something. As a professional of 15 years’ experience in the brand reputation space there are a number of issues that I have to talk to clients about again and again, where it is clear that the people I am speaking to know, and largely agree with, what I am saying… but then either fail to take the appropriate action or come back and ask the same question a year or so later. There are a number of these issues; whether general public marketing affects the opinions of politicians is one, as are questions about how to improve trust.

One that is perhaps less obvious a question is the importance of cyber security to reputation. However, it is a topic that has come up frequently over the years, both from clients asking about it through to Ipsos writing articles and thought pieces on the subject. Myself and colleagues wrote about the cybercrime threat to reputation back in 2016 and 2017, and warned that businesses were perhaps overconfident and underprepared for the risks posed by cybercrime in both 2018 and 2019.

Nevertheless, we still got the sense that despite our clients knowing that cybersecurity is a potential threat to their hard-worn corporate reputation, they somehow didn’t really take it seriously. I get that IT is less sexy than marketing and events when it comes to reputation management, but it is certainly as important. Losing data on a large scale strikes a blow against any company’s ability to portray themselves as competent, well managed or trustworthy.

Nearly 9 in 10 senior industry leaders invest in cyber security to protect the reputation of the companies they work for. It’s high time you joined them.

Bearing all this in mind, I was enthused to see data in Ipsos’s 2020 Captains of Industry survey that seems to indicate senior business leaders are not only cognizant that cybersecurity is important from an operational perspective but also from the point of view of reputation management.

When asked directly to give the main reasons for investing in cybersecurity, nearly nine in ten Captains of Industry said that it was “to protect our reputation”, with 30% saying that it was the most important reason. Only business continuity was more important. This is a huge endorsement of cybersecurity as a reputational shield, and one that is being embraced by business leaders themselves rather than being forced upon them by shareholders or customer demand (the more traditional triggers for investment in cybersecurity).

Given the importance of reputation – it is now the third ranked factor that Captains of Industry look for when judging an organisation – the way cybersecurity is being directly linked to reputation is huge positive and suggests that business leaders (and my clients) are beginning to understand its importance. I would even go further and suggest that cybersecurity not only protects a firm’s reputation, but it also safeguards its financial performance and perceptions of the quality of its management, the top two factors listed by Captains of Industry when judging a company or organisation.

While I am under no illusion that questions about the importance of cybersecurity to reputation are going to go away, hopefully these results indicate that we have reached a tipping point and that soon cybersecurity will take its place alongside the other recognised and respected tools of reputation and brand managers.

For more information please contact:

Carl Phillips
Director & Global Stakeholder Research Lead
Corporate Reputation,
Technology Sector

Carl.Phillips@ipsos.com

Fashion Victims: The Losers in the Fast Fashion Race

What can comms. leaders learn from the challenges facing companies in the fashion Industry?

The fashion industry has been under the spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons. The industry is going through a period of rapid change, brands and retailers are increasingly exposed to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in their supply chains, resulting in an intensified threat to reputation. Just last summer Boohoo was caught up in allegations around poor working conditions and allegations of paying employees in their supply chain below the minimum wage.

The restrictions imposed on consumer life throughout the COVID pandemic have acted as a rare speed bump on an industry that has otherwise been evolving unabated at a frightening pace. Ipsos Sustainability Monitor (SBM) 2020 data reveals that over half of consumers (55%) are buying less clothing than they were pre-pandemic. With the world on pause we ask what’s next for the fashion industry? How do brands best navigate these issues? How engaged are consumers in these issues? And what can comms leaders, across all industries, learn from the challenges being faced by the fashion industry?

Fast Fashion: a quick overview

Fast Fashion: “Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”

Since the late 90s, globalisation has opened-up Western markets to cheaper labour in the East. Cheaper clothing and ever shortening fashion cycles (including the development of the weekly ‘micro season’) means that clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, while the average number of garments purchased by the average Western consumer increased by 60% (McKinsey).[1]

Fast fashion is fuelled by celebrity culture, fads and the 24/7 nature of social media. SBM 2020 data shows that three-quarters of consumers agree that clothing and fashion are becoming cheaper and more throw-away in nature. And while just 14% of consumers say they feel under increased pressure to keep up with the latest trends and fashion, this rises to 24% among the youngest group (18-34 year olds). The fashion industry (and fast fashion in particular) are associated with serious ESG issues, outlined below.

Figure A) ESG issues typically associated with fast fashion (and the wider clothing industry)

  • Environmental issues: The fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry (UN)[2]
  • Social issues: Forced/ slave labour, child labour, dangerous working condition… The Clean Clothes campaign reports wages in Eastern markets are typically a fifth of average living wage there.[3] Average working days are 14-16 hours, 7 days per week (Clean Clothes Campaign)[4]
  • Governance issues: Overproduction is a massive issue. More than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year, (McKinsey)[5] with consumers keeping clothing on average half as long as they did 15 years ago

1) Ethical considerations and the impact on purchasing behaviour

ESG issues around fast fashion and the clothing industry have been widely reported. As consumer awareness grows, we might speculate that ethical considerations will come to take on more importance in the minds of consumers. But how much impact do ethical considerations have over clothes purchasing decisions?

When it comes to what actually drives clothes purchase decisions, the more conventional levers such as price style and quality hold the most sway. None-the-less almost a third of consumers say that ethical issues are one of the top 3 factors that influence their decisions over clothes purchases (and 8% say that it is their primary consideration).

In the era of fast fashion it is perhaps surprising that ‘trends’ (keeping up with friends, celebrities, social media and advertising) is the least selected factor influencing clothes purchases. Caveats should be applied (the results are self-reported and people might underplay the amount of influence trends hold on them, the sample is 18+, missing a key demographic target for fast fashion, teenagers). But the result does suggest that fast fashion is concentrated not only in small proportion of the worlds markets (Western markets) but also within a small proportion of the population within those markets. A small number of people are likely to be responsible for a lot of clothes purchases. While 30% of consumers say they buy more clothes than they need, this rises to 42% among those that say ‘trends’ are a top 3 influencing factor, and 55% among those that say that ‘trends’ are the primary influence on their clothes purchases (SBM data 2020).

#1. Know your customer: For 3-in-10 consumers ethical issues are a key decision-making criterion in what clothes they buy. Whether your business is in fashion or elsewhere, there is clear reputational risk in not being aware of, or not fully understanding what motivates and what matters to your customers.  

Chart B: Ipsos SBM data 2020: Clothing and fashion purchase decisions

2) Consumer disconnects over ethical issues

What consumers want they don’t necessarily get

Ethical issues play an important secondary role in clothing purchase decision making but what action do consumers think should be taken? Four-in-five consumers agree that brands and retailers should do more to help protect the environment and safeguard workers’ rights within their supply chains, and 77% of consumers say that clothing brands and retailers should provide more information. However, there is a large disconnect between what consumers want and what they get. Just 17% of consumers agree that the fashion industry provides enough information about the environmental and social impacts of the manufacturing of clothes.

Consumer good intentions not necessarily reflected by their actions

When it comes to taking personal action, although 56% of consumers say that if a clothing brand was associated with environmental pollution in its manufacturing process, they would be putting off from buying clothing from that brand, just 28% of consumers have researched brands that provide ethical clothing.

#2. Be transparent: As globalisation has increased the complexity of supply chains in the fashion industry, it’s becoming harder for many brands and retailers to maintain transparency. Whether your business is in fashion or elsewhere, consumers want to be able to make informed decisions, they want to be provided with clear and complete information (and they probably expect you to do at least some (if not all) of the legwork).

Chart C: Ipsos SMB data 2020 & Ipsos Sustainable Fashion Survey 2018 data: The disconnect between consumer good intentions and their actions

3) What's to be done?

Consumers clearly want more ethical accountability from brands and retailers. But by what means do they want this delivered? In 2019 the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published its “Fixing Fashion Report”[6] making 18 recommendations to the government to help clean up the industry, including;

  • Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million
  • More proactive approach to enforcement of the National Minimum Wage with greater resourcing for HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team to increase inspection and detection work
  • The Government should publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. This should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act

The Ipsos SBM 2020 survey tested what level of consumer support there would be for clothing and fashion brands and retailers that adopted similar commitments through their own volition. Across the 8 statements tested by the SBM survey (see chart D) between 67% and 78% of consumers said that the measures would make them feel more positively about a clothing brand or retailer. Commitments to national minimum wage (43%) and proof of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act (40%) had the most ‘much more’ positive impact. There are notable differences by demographics.

18-34 year olds are much more likely to say that they would be ‘much more’ positive about brands across all of these measures:

  • 44% of 18-34 year olds said they would be much more positive about brands that set themselves environmental targets compared to 24% of 55+ year olds
  • 44% of 18-34 year olds said they would be much more positive about brands that made commitments to using sustainable materials compared to 28% of 55+ year olds

Women are also much more positive across all of the measures:

  • 46% of women felt much more positive about stores that set-up in-store schemes to help customers recycle their old clothes compared to 30% of men
  • 40% of women felt much more positive about brands that helped to reduce textile waste compared to 25% of men

Women and millennials with disposable income form a key target audience for the fashion industry. As ethical and ESG considerations climb up the agenda they are likely to hold more influence over brand reputation and consumer purchase behaviours. If your clothing range is targeted at younger consumers and women in particular, then commitments to the environment and the wellbeing of employees in your supply chain is quickly transitioning from a nice-to-have to a necessity.

#3. Collaborate with your customers: There is clear support for measures that help clean up the fashion industry and reputational rewards are available for brands that adopt similar commitments. Whether your business lies in fashion or elsewhere it pays reputationally to align your business’s commitments to those of your customer. Take pride in your commitments and collaborate with your customers.

Chart D: Ipsos SBM data 2020: Impact of brand and retailer ethical commitments

4) Conclusion & Recommendations: An opportunity to build brand reputation

Fashion at its heart is an outlet for self-expression, choice, freedom, communication, it’s a vehicle to bolster confidence, for consumers to feel good about themselves. Exploitation and corporate greed aren’t a great look for brands trying to make their customers feel good about themselves. And there’s evidence that fashion brands are starting to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Model examples   

  • Sustainable materials & Slow fashion - H&M offers a new ‘Conscious’ range. To qualify the product must contain at least 50% sustainable materials e.g. organic cotton or recycled polyester. Levi’s ‘Water<Less’ collection uses up to 96% less water in its denim production. Patagonia only uses sustainable materials in their outwear. They champion “slow fashion” by helping customers repair garments and encouraging customers to recycle and buy second hand
  • Circular economy – TK Maxx ‘Give Up Clothes for Good’ campaign has recycled 1.6m bags of clothing since 2004. They also have a zero waste to landfill target. M&S ‘Shwopping’ partnership with Oxfam 30million garments swapped and £21million raised for people living in extreme poverty. The circular economy is based on reusing and recycling materials rather than throwing them away
  • Codes of conduct – TK Maxx operates a ‘vendor code of conduct,’ committing vendors to use no child or forced labour, protect employee rights on wages, working hours and adhering to health & safety regulations in the workplace

Whether or not we see a return to business as usual on the high street as COVID-19 subsides, consumers are expecting more from businesses and brands, challenging them to perform a social purpose beyond simply turning a profit. This increased scrutiny presents a risk certainly, but with it also a growing opportunity. Ipsos Corporate Reputation Centre has 40 years’ experience in helping global businesses navigate reputational challenges.

Ipsos Recommendations

1) Know your customer – understand what issues concern them and to what extent it concerns them. How does this impact how they perceive your brand?

2) Transparency & third-party endorsements – good brand reputation is built on trust. Third party endorsements such as the Fair-Trade Foundation and the Impact Report are a means to showing your customers that you care and take their concerns seriously. Avoid shortcuts and greenwashing and practise what you preach.

3) Collaborate & take pride – show consumers that you are on their side, that you want to make life easier and more straight forward for them and that you can help bring clarity, speed and convenience to the purchasing decisions that they care about. Collaborate and work in partnership with customers towards shared goals.

Article links

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula

[2] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161

[3] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-environmental-impact

[4] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-environmental-impact

[5] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf

[6] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/2311/2311.pdf

For more information about how Ipsos can help you, get in touch:

Tom Cox
Research Manager
Corporate Reputation, Consumer Sector

Tom.Cox@ipsos.com