Preventing Spankings from Rankings

How to deal with external benchmarking of sustainability performance
Preventing Spankings from Rankings
Publ. date 4 Apr 2011
Naming and shaming is increasingly regarded as an effective way to progress the sustainability of sectors and individual organizations. Therefore the global drive for sustainability is progressively leading to the emergence of green rankings.

Green rankings vary from factual CSR performance to brand perception

In principle there are two kinds of public benchmarks: rankings that measure the factual sustainability of products and/or services and rankings that measure the sustainability perception by key stakeholders of a brand. Strong examples of rankings of the first kind are the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), the Good Guide and the Dutch Transparency Benchmark. The latter category is well represented by the Green Brands 2010 study from Landor and the Fashion study conducted by Rankabrand: " How future proof are fashion brands?".

Next to public rankings there are also internal rankings in which companies benchmark themselves against peers. A good example of this is "PROBE for Sustainable Business" by Comparison International.

Game plan to benefit from benchmarking

Most rankings are constructed by intermediaries that aspire to drive sustainability forward with an (indirect) desire to gain momentum for themselves such as publishers, NGO's and consultants. Therefore most rankings are purpose built and come with their own rule book.  In order to be effective in the ranking game some practical rules of engagement apply for sustainability strategists:

1. Be selective.

Determine which top 3 sustainability rankings are essential to the brand and analyze their rating system. Too often random green fund questionnaires cause havoc within the organization. 

2. Plan in advance!

Most rankings have a predicable cycle and a clear set of criteria. 

3. Appoint a team to respond and allocate deliverables where needed.

In case the ownership of a questionnaire fully remains with Corporate Communication or Investor Relations departements, timely delivery of the response can become a nightmare leading to severe loss of quality. 

4. Be factual about your story. 

Best practices evidently originate from companies that communicate clear targets, results and authentic stories. 

5. Focus, Focus, Focus. 

From one year to the next not all desired improvement measures can be implemented so be sure to prioritize your actions. 

External rankings can create internal sense of urgency around sustainability

It definitely makes sense for sustainability strategists to maximize value from the application of rankings. And not just as a means for communication. In a round table that Finch & Beak organized together with RobecoSAM, the composer of the DJSI , and several (potential) participants of the index, it became apparent that external rankings have great value as an internal driver.  Using external benchmarks for internal spanking makes sense as the business driven quest for sustainability remains a source of concern within many companies.

For more information on the effective application of rankings for your organisation, please contact us at

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