Collaboration. It's what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you work in brands' corporate citizenship efforts these days. After all, as Marshall McLuhan stated back in 1969, "There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."
So it's encouraging to see statements such as the following: "We are breaking new ground with our collaborative effort to source sustainable beef," says J.C. Gonzalez-Mendez, McDonald’s SVP of Global Corporate Social Responsibility, in the company's just-released 2020 CSR and Sustainability Framework (The Theme: "Our Journey Together: For Good"). Partnerships will also help McDonald's achieve its other sustainability goals, which range from all-fiber-based packaging to in-store recycling.
It's not just McDonald's, of course, that's looking to become a better corporate citizen. Consider how Walmart, which just held its first supplier product expo to help promote collaborative sustainability goals. An impressive array of partners attending that event included top executives from Campbell Soup, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Monsanto, PepsiCo, P&G, and Unilever.
"When we get this right, it will be something we can talk to our grandkids about," commented Walmart Stores president and CEO Doug McMillon in his opening remarks. "We've all got the pieces to the puzzle, and we have a better shot at creating a system that will create a sustainable planet together."
Walmart invited company CEOs to join its Closed Loop Fund, which plans to invest $100m in recycling infrastructure projects in the U.S., while committed to sourcing 15 percent of its beef supply according to environmental criteria by 2023.
It's not just other brand leaders that are partnering for change—none of these lofty goals matter if employees and consumers aren't engaged. Case in point: Coca-Cola, which is now launching a "socially responsible" bottled-water brand, Ice Dew "Chun Yue" (Pure Joy) in China with a commitment to bring clean drinking water to schoolchildren in rural parts of the country.
With millennials increasingly concerned about societal issues, Coca-Cola saw an opening for a socially conscious brand for the market, a brand promise that starts with the beverage's launch campaign slogan, "Drink Good, Do Good, Feel Good."
As Pratik Thakar, Coke's VP Asia Pacific for creative and content excellence, told Ad Age, Chinese youths are "proud of being part of solving social issues—they may not be very active, maybe not going out and planting trees and hugging trees and those kinds of things, but they see pollution and other issues and immediately chat about them on Weibo."
Their intentions may be good, but the resulting actions and changes aren't happening fast enough for at least one observer: Ceres, the sustainable business watchdog, which just conducted a study with Sustainalytics to assess the progress of 613 of the largest publicly-traded U.S companies.
“We’re seeing companies improve across many of the expectations, but at the same time, we’re not seeing the scale of change that we really need,” Ceres VP Andrea Moffatt told Fast Company. “If we really want the change to happen, it’s got to be in the business structure.”
Two key findings indicate signs of hope in the Ceres report card: a growing number (24 percent) of companies’ top executives compensation packages are being linked to sustainability performance (146 companies out of 613) compared to only 15 percent in 2012; and 40 percent of companies audited are actively engaging employees in these efforts, an increase from 30 percent in 2012. Some green shoots, at least, as companies get smarter about achieving their sustainability goals.
Connect with Sheila Shayon on Twitter: @srshayon