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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Interpreting the Top Ten

I continue to be fascinated by the range of company ratings programs for corporate responsibility.

In a not particularly representative sample, I recorded the top ten of the most recent programs that came to my attention. BMS, IBM, HP and Nike each appear twice in my sample but no company appears more than twice and all other companies appear once only.

These particular four surveys have very different scope and intent but if those differences are taken into account, the contrasting outcomes can be informative.

Globescan/ Sustainability


WPP and Cohn & Wolfe


Sustainability Survey

100 Best List

Green Brands

Green Rankings



Clorox Green Works



General Mills

Burt's Bees (Clorox)


Toyota =

Walmart =


Tom's of Maine (Colgate Palmolive)



SC Johnson






M&S =

Unilever =



State Street




BT =

DuPont =

Nike =




Kimberly Clark


Applied Materials,


Dove (Unilever)


Just looking at methodology for example, the CRO survey is based on a pure quantified methodology; Newsweek is based on a quantified methodology but includes a component from an opinion survey; the Globescan and GreenBrands are based completely on opinion surveys (although of very different audiences).

The most important things to understand are:

  • What is the ranking intended to measure - carbon emission reporting, green performance, overall corporate responsibility?
  • Is the basic methodology a perception survey, panel of judges or a quantified measurement?
  • What companies are in scope – is it geographically limited, size limited, dependent on submission of an ‘application’ or limited to members of a particular index or association ?

The Globescan/Sustainability list, based on level of unprompted recall by sustainability specialists, is a measure of which companies are in the forefront of overall sustainability judged by peers. The CRO 100 Best, with a quantified methodology is limited to American listed companies only, but it is still interesting that there is no overlap with the Globescan/sustainability top ten. It is not until you get to #15 on Globescan’s list, that you hit IBM, the first company to appear on the CRO 100. There is no further overlap with Globescan’s or CRO’s top 20.

Likewise, none of the top ten Green Brands according to consumer perception have propelled their company in the top ten green companies according to Newsweek’s quantified ranking. The first top ten Green Brand to appear on the Newsweek ranking is P&G at #26.

I would enjoy hearing from others on what conclusions you would draw from these contrasts.

I wrote another blog post on this topic “Ranking Corporate Sustainability Performance” in December 08.

Postscript 10/30/09: Brian Boyd VP of Environmental Affairs at Johnson and Johnson provides a response with a guest post.


  1. The difference among the rankings come down to 1 thing: is the ranking for simple commercial promotion, or is it to raise the bar for all industry? The only way to actually raise the bar, to be a set of goals toward which companies can aspire, is to make the methodology 100% transparent and based on publicly-available binary/quantitative information--a combination that's actually really hard to do, requiring lots of leg work. To do a commercial promotional ranking with a proprietary, non-open methodology is much easier and often can be a money-maker for the publisher. That's why there are so many of them. I've done each type of ranking many times in many markets. I happen to favor the CRO 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, since it's open, based on publicly-available data, and has over 10 years become the industry standard and according to PR Week the 3rd most-respected list in business. Oh, yeah, and because my company owns it.

  2. Thank very much, Kevin, for putting these four different rankings together. All of these are valuable in their own right. Our Sustainability Survey ranking of leading SD companies by GlobeScan/SustainAbility has been around for 12 years and thus gives important perspective over the great amount of activity in the sustainability sphere. The Sustainability Survey ranking is unique in that it is a rating by experts across a range of stakeholder groups (governments, companies, NGOs, academia) from 90 countries. This is a potent measure of the sustainability community's assessment of which companies are truly differentiating themselves.
    Chris Coulter

  3. The Newsweek rankings are a very significant development in the promotion of green and CSR in the mass public. Newsweek's readership and impact are 10X larger (just a guess - maybe 100X larger!) than the other 3 combined. Their choice to do this project was not trivial and they devoted significant resources to the development of the list. All assessment systems can be improved (I'm a research professional), but I have reviewed the methodology and spoke some of the principals involved in the work and I am quite impressed with what they have done.

    I really hope that what they have done (along with the other list-makers as well) helps increase awareness of the social and environmental footprint of business.

  4. The link to your previous blog post does not work. Can you please repost your original blog?

  5. MG, thanks for pointing this out. The post is still up there. The correct link is I just got the link wrong. I will correct it.

  6. Thanks all for your thoughtful responses. Brian Boyd, VP of Environmental Affairs at J&J has also responded in a guest post here I don't believe commenter jj is from J&J. jj can you tell us a bit more about yourself or add a link to a bio ?

  7. Thanks for posting this, Kevin. The differences you point out here do underline the reality that you'll end up with different results depending on who you're asking. We keep on seeing the tech industry top the list of responsible sectors as rated by consumers - without much justification, arguably - so seeing HP and Dell up there on Green Brands isn't too much of a surprise.

    As Chris pointed out in his comment, we think the breadth and seniority of our sample of specialists means it's worth taking seriously. I covered these results in a blog post earlier this year -