Promoting corporate sustainability on the web

Nov 08, 2011

Almost three-quarters of Standard & Poor's top 500 US companies mentioned one or more sustainability programs on their websites. A new study shows that the largest companies are doing so in order to attract and maintain a profitable customer base rather than to actually incorporate and promote sustainability. Nevertheless, the side effect of their promotional efforts may be to boost such efforts within their company and have an impact on increasing adoption across various industries and services.

Brothers Nathan Heinze of Saint Petersburg College in Clearwater, Florida, and Timothy Heinze of California State University, Chico, have used impression management theory and ten organizational categories uncovered in previous research to assess the websites and environmental efforts of 500 leading US companies. Writing in the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, the researchers explain that in the current economic climate of austerity measures, crippling national debt and ultra-competitive markets, companies must use every opportunity available to them in order to survive and to stay competitive. "Implementing sustainability programs and featuring them on their websites is a method to help reach that goal, besides the possible cost savings and benefit to the environment," the team says.

They found that sustainability efforts and the promotion of those efforts via the web various across industries from financial, information technology, healthcare, heavy industry, energy, utilities, materials and telecommunications. They found, for instance, that in 2008, fewer than half of companies noted energy-saving efforts on their websites, while by 2011, that proportion had risen to two-thirds. They add that over one third of companies (36%) have chemical waste programs in place, and almost the same percentage (31%) support biodiversity program, both increases from 2008 levels of 30% and 24%.

However, while the percentage of utility companies with programs in energy, waste reduction, and climate change prevention was upwards of 80%, the same figures for the finance industry were only 48%, 46%, and 41%, respectively ; although that is a significant improvement on the percentages for 2008 of 27%, 25%, and 17%.

"It is probable that the dramatic disparity among industries can be attributed to a difference in strategic emphasis. For example, utilities and materials are more directly involved in the manufacturing, transporting, and delivery of physical goods to their customers than are financials," the researchers explain. There could be a more pernicious rationale. "Another possibility for the disparity is the focus of the corporate websites. For example, an oil company is likely viewed with more suspicion by an environmentally conscious public than is a financial company," the team adds.

The researchers suggest that their study establishes a baseline from which future measurements can be taken to assess the continued progress of large companies in their sustainability efforts. The findings hint at an enormous growth in sustainability by America's largest corporations and this finding might serve notice on management that environmental sustainability can no longer be treated as a cursory concern. "The study offers guidelines to managers for creating a web presence that emphasizes environmental practices consistent with other companies in their own industries," they conclude.

Explore further: Performance measures for CEOs vary greatly, study finds

More information: "Sustainability practices and promotion: websites of large US companies" in Int. J. Global Environmental Issues, 2011, 11, 157-169

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Small restaurants counter backlash against chains

Aug 23, 2011

When large restaurant companies implement sustainability policies, customers are deeply skeptical of the efforts -- and their opinion of those companies may actually diminish. But consumers do give smaller restaurants a nod ...

Go green, give a boost to employee morale

Feb 01, 2011

In a global recession, most people are thankful to have a job, but a new study published in Interdisciplinary Environmental Review suggests that employees are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs if they are workin ...

Sustainability index could help managers compete

May 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers from Cornell and Boston University have developed a standard measurement of expenses for energy and supplies to be used as a sustainability gauge for the hotel industry.

Recommended for you

Which foods may cost you more due to Calif. drought

8 hours ago

With California experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, grocery shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices ...

Performance measures for CEOs vary greatly, study finds

Apr 16, 2014

As companies file their annual proxy statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this spring, a new study by Rice University and Cornell University shows just how S&P 500 companies have ...

Investment helps keep transport up to speed

Apr 16, 2014

Greater investment in education and training for employees will be required to meet the future needs of the transport and logistics industry, according to recent reports by Monash University researchers.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...