Major companies across industrial sectors are putting more effort and investment into demonstrating good corporate citizenship on environmental, social, and related governance factors. However, research shows that it may be getting harder for companies to gain recognition for doing so.
Last year, Brandlogic and CRD Analytics prepared the 2012 Sustainability Leadership Report: Measuring Perception vs. Reality, marking the second year for the annual report and continuing our pioneering work in measuring and comparing real sustainability performance to the perceptions of key stakeholders. This follow-on study used the same methodology established for the inaugural report, as described in a November 2012 issue of Director Notes (see “About the Sustainability Leadership Report,” p. 2, for a summary).  Moreover, the follow-on study validated the methodology’s usefulness as a management framework for making decisions about if and where to invest in sustainability, both on the operational and communications fronts.
With a second set of data in hand, we are able to observe year-over-year movement. Overall, real performance on sustainability is rising, reflecting ongoing and intensifying corporate efforts to define and achieve sustainability goals.
However, perceived performance, on average, is declining. The findings suggest that it is becoming more difficult to achieve differentiation among those audiences who are most attentive to sustainability, despite a better track record. This finding is both striking and surprising. Why is perception slipping despite an increasing volume of communications around sustainability? In what follows, we explore possible answers.