• Caterina Sullivan

Does Corporate Sustainability Need to Account for Consumer Trust?



In the corporate world, a number of organisations routinely use ranking systems to determine the most 'ethical', 'sustainable', 'fair' or 'just' companies.


But what does this mean in real terms for the consumer?


Many of these ranking systems are weighted in a certain way to give greater importance to some areas of sustainability over others.


One notable ranking system puts particular emphasis on internal governance but sees the environment for accounting for less than 10% of the overall score.


On face value to consumers who are passionate about seeing meaningful environmental change, these companies are leading the way. However, upon further investigation, consumers find that these companies may not be performing so well in this area.


There is also the issue of public controversies in which some large companies often find themselves intertwined. When these controversies, justified or otherwise, do not seem to affect companies' rankings, many consumers begin to question the system in which the companies are found to be good corporate citizens.


This begs the question whether or not these ranking systems need to include a focus on consumer trust. What does a company do to position itself in the community to be seen as an ally rather than an enemy by the general public? How does this translate in terms of impact on the ground economically, socially and environmentally?


As innovation begins to progress faster than the law, companies are able to operate more often in a legal grey area. This causes companies to see a hit to their moral standing within the broader community but not necessarily see their rankings affected due to their avoidance of participating in any 'technically' illegal behaviour.


Consumers are also wanting to see a distinction between different areas of sustainability. For example, some consumers would weigh environment far more heavily than governance. It is important that differing perspectives and priorities on sustainability as seen on a consumer by consumer basis are taken into account.


It is difficult to put the burden of responsibility on the individual citizen to do their full research into each organisation as it is just not realistic given each individual's time constraints. Furthermore, the issue becomes more complicated, especially in the tech world, as one product as purchased by the consumer may use parts from a number of different companies, each with their own strength and silences in corporate sustainability practices.


In order to bridge the gap between the corporate rankings and the public opinion of consumers, we need to establish more transparency when it comes to corporate sustainability.


Ensuring this transparency is a sure way to communicate to your stakeholder base that you are serious about sustainability. It also gives you an opportunity to gauge public opinion about your practices and what they would like to see improved.


How does your business communicate your sustainability practices to your consumers? How can your consumers access this information?


Strategic Sustainability Consultants work with organisations from all industries to ensure their sustainability plans are transparent and accessible. Contact us today for further information.


This article was originally published on the Strategic Sustainability Consultants website.