Five Questions about CSR Metrics – Special Interview with Bahar Gidwani, Co-founder and CEO, CSR Hub, New York, New York, United States of America – February 4, 2013

On the first Monday of each month Emerging Markets ESG publishes a special interview with an academic, expert or practitioner about a specific topic with relevance to environmental, social and/or governance (ESG) issues.

This month’s interview, the 11th in the special interview series, is about corporate social responsibility (CSR) metrics and is with Bahar Gidwani, Co-founder and CEO, CSRHub, New York, New York, United States of America.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 6,700 companies from 135 industries in 82 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.  CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues. It offers subscribers immediate access to millions of detailed data points from our 200 data sources. Our data comes from nine socially responsible investing research firms, well-known indices, publications, “best of” or “worst of” lists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), crowd sources and government agencies. By aggregating and normalizing the information from these sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links each rating point back to its source.  CSRHub is a B Corporation, an Organizational Stakeholder (OS) with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a silver partner with Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and supports both the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR) and the International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC).  Bahar Gidwani is Co-founder and CEO of CSRHub. He serves on the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Advisory Board.  Bahar Gidwani was CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses, and has experience building a multi-million visitor website. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Bahar is based in New York City.

Emerging Markets ESG:  What are CSR metrics?

BaharGidwaniBahar Gidwani:  The CSRHub Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) metrics allow corporate managers to understand how their company is performing socially relative to other companies in the same industry or geography.  By giving managers “benchmarks”, we allow them to discover the strengths and weaknesses in their company’s sustainability-related policies and practices.  Our metrics assure CSR area managers that they can promote and publicize the things their companies are doing well.  They also indicate which other companies the manager could approach for guidance on “best practices” for CSR-related issues.  And, they allow both CSR professionals and outside stakeholders to track a company’s performance, over time.  By providing broad, consistent, third-party data on performance, metrics allow CSR professionals and their stakeholders to “agree on the facts” and then focus their discussion on the actions needed to improve sustainability performance.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Over the past five years, the financial industry has accepted the acronym ESG (environmental, social and governance) to describe the three groups of extra-financial factors that influence corporate performance.  Do you agree with the ESG taxonomy?

Bahar Gidwani:  We studied 14 taxonomies at the start of our project, five years ago.  We looked for common themes and approaches and sought ways in which they could be coordinated and combined.  We elected to use four main pillars: Community, Employees, Environment and Governance instead of the three in ESG (Environment, Social and Governance).

Our decision turns out to be reasonably well supported by an analysis of the data contributed by our data sources.  The 7,265 different data elements we have ingested to date divide up as follows:

  • Community – 20%;
  • Employees – 18%;
  • Environment – 32%; and
  • Governance – 30%.

It seems to us that we have enough data to provide solid support for four pillars instead of three.  However, our data suggests that the three pillar ESG model is also reasonable.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Could you please list the 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance CSR Hub rates.

Bahar Gidwani:  This is a detailed description of each of the categories:

Category/Subcategory Description
COMMUNITY The Community Category covers the company’s commitment and effectiveness within the local, national and global community in which it does business. It reflects a company’s citizenship, charitable giving, and volunteerism. This category covers the company’s human rights record and treatment of its supply chain. It also covers the environmental and social impacts of the company’s products and services, and the development of sustainable products, processes and technologies.
Human rights, supply chain, product quality & safety, product sustainability, community development, philanthropy.
Community Development & Philanthropy Subcategory The Community Development and Philanthropy subcategory covers the relationship between a company and the communities within which it is embedded. It reflects a company’s community citizenship through charitable giving, donations of goods, and volunteerism of staff time. It also includes protecting public health (e.g., avoidance of industrial accidents) and managing the social impacts of its operations on local communities. The subcategory also includes a company’s land use and building design impact on the local economy and ecosystem.
Human Rights & Supply Chain Subcategory The Human Rights and Supply Chain subcategory measures a company’s commitment to respecting fundamental human rights conventions, its ability to maintain its license to operate by supporting freedom of association and excluding child, forced or compulsory labor. This subcategory covers a company’s transparency in overseas sourcing disclosure and monitoring and a company’s relationship with and respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples near its proposed or current operations.
Product Subcategory The Product subcategory covers the responsibility of a company for the development, design, and management of its products and services and their impacts on customers and society at large. This subcategory reflects a company’s capacity to reduce environmental costs, create new market opportunities through new sustainable technologies or processes, and produce or market goods and services that enhance the health and quality of life for consumers. This subcategory rating covers the integrity of a company’s products and sales practices, including their labeling and marketing, social impacts and end-of-life disposition. It also relates to product safety and quality and the company’s response to problems with safety and quality.
EMPLOYEES The Employees category includes disclosure of policies, programs, and performance in diversity, labor relations and labor rights, compensation, benefits, and employee training, health and safety. The evaluation focuses on the quality of policies and programs, compliance with national laws and regulations, and proactive management initiatives. The category includes evaluation of inclusive diversity policies, fair treatment of all employees, robust diversity (EEO-1) programs and training, disclosure of workforce diversity data, strong labor codes (addressing the core ILO standards), comprehensive benefits, demonstrated training and development opportunities, employee health and safety policies, basic and industry-specific safety training, demonstrated safety management systems, and a positive safety performance record.
Diversity, labor rights, treatment of unions, compensation, benefits, training, health, worker safety
Compensation and Benefits Subcategory The Compensation and Benefits subcategory covers a company’s capacity to increase its workforce loyalty and productivity through rewarding, fair, and equal compensation and financial benefits. It includes benefits that engage employees and improve worker development. This subcategory also focuses on long-term employment growth and stability by promotion practices, lay-off practices, and relations with retired employees.
Diversity and Labor Rights Subcategory The Diversity and Labor Rights subcategory covers workplace policies and practices covering fair and non-discriminatory treatment of employees, and its diversity policies. It covers a company’s labor-management relations and participation by employees, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) violations or patterns of anti-union practice, conformance to internationally recognized worker rights, as defined in the basic conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Fundamental labor rights include freedom of association and protection of the right to organize; right to bargain collectively; a minimum age for the employment of children; a prohibition against forced labor; lack of employment and occupational discrimination; and equal compensation. This subcategory measures a company’s ability to maintain diversity, provide equal opportunities regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, and promote work-life balance.
Training, Safety and Health Subcategory The Training, Safety and Health subcategory measures a company’s effectiveness in providing a healthy and safe workplace. This subcategory includes accident and safety performance, as well as job training, safety standards and training, and employee-management safety teams. It includes programs to support the health, well-being and productivity of all employees. This subcategory includes workplace policies and programs that boost employee morale, workplace productivity, company policies and practices to engage employees, and worker development.
ENVIRONMENT The Environment category data covers a company’s interactions with the environment at large, including use of natural resources, and a company’s impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The category evaluates corporate environmental performance, compliance with environmental regulations, mitigation of environmental footprint, leadership in addressing climate change through appropriate policies and strategies, energy-efficient operations, and the development of renewable energy and other alternative environmental technologies, disclosure of sources of environmental risk and liability and actions to minimize exposure to future risk, implementation of natural resource conservation and efficiency programs, pollution prevention programs, demonstration of a strategy toward sustainable development, integration of environmental sustainability and responsiveness with management and the board, and programs to measure and engage stakeholders for environmental improvement.
Environmental policy, environmental reporting, waste management, resource management, energy use, climate change policies and performance.
Energy and Climate Change Subcategory The Energy and Climate Change subcategory measures a company’s effectiveness in addressing climate change through appropriate policies and strategies, energy-efficient operations, and the development of renewable energy and other alternative environmental technologies. The subcategory includes energy use, emissions to air of CO2 and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG).
Environment Policy and Reporting Subcategory The Environmental Policy and Reporting subcategory includes a company’s policies and intention to reduce the environmental impact of a company and its value stream to levels that are healthy for the company and for the environment, now and in the future. The data includes the company’s environmental reporting performance, adherence to environmental reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative, and compliance with investor, regulatory and stakeholders’ requests for transparency. Compliance data consists of breaches of regulatory limits and accidental releases.
Resource Management Subcategory The Resource Management subcategory covers how efficiently resources are used in manufacturing and delivering products and services, including those of a company’s suppliers. It includes a company’s capacity to reduce the use of materials, energy or water, and to find more efficient solutions by improving its supply chain management. This subcategory includes environmental performance relative to production size and is monitored by the production-related Eco Intensity Ratios (EIRs) for water and energy defined as resource consumption per produced or released unit. Resource materials include raw materials and packaging materials for production and related processes and packaging of products. Resource Management data also include waste and recycling performance. Recycling data is related to the proportion of waste recycled of the total waste. Data includes how the company manages operations to benefit the local airshed and watershed, and how the company impacts land use and local ecological stability. The water resource data includes consumption of drinking water, industrial water and steam.
GOVERNANCE The Governance category covers disclosure of policies and procedures, board independence and diversity, executive compensation, attention to stakeholder concerns, and evaluation of a company’s culture of ethical leadership and compliance. Corporate governance refers to leadership structure and the values that determine corporate direction, ethics and performance. This category rates factors such as: are corporate policies and practices aligned with sustainability goals; is the management of the corporation transparent to stakeholders; are employees appropriately engaged in the management of the company; are sustainability principles integrated from the top down into the day-to-day operations of the company. Governance focuses on how management is committed to sustainability and corporate responsibility at all levels.
Leadership ethics, board composition, executive compensation, transparency and reporting, stakeholder treatment.
Board Subcategory The Board subcategory covers a company’s effectiveness in following best practices in corporate governance principles related to board membership, independent decision making through experienced, diverse and independent board members, effectiveness toward following best practices related to board activities and functions, and board committee structure and composition. It includes how the company provides competitive and proportionate management compensation and its ability to incent executives and board members to achieve both financial and extra-financial targets.
Leadership Ethics Subcategory The Leadership Ethics subcategory measures how a company manages its relationships with its various stakeholders, including investors, customers, communities, and regulators. This subcategory measures a company’s effectiveness in treating its shareholders equitably. Leadership ethics includes the company’s culture of ethical decision making. It measures a company’s commitment and effectiveness toward the vision of integrating social and environmental aspects into the overall core strategy and whether sustainability principles are integrated from the top down into the day-to-day operations of the company.
Transparency and Reporting Subcategory The Transparency and Reporting subcategory rates factors including are corporate policies and practices aligned with sustainability goals, is the management of the corporation transparent to stakeholders, are employees appropriately engaged in the management of the company, and do sustainability reports comply with standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative, AccountAbility (AA1000) and other standards, and are these reports made publicly available. This subcategory includes whether the company provides a list of its major stakeholders and how it engages with them. It also covers whether the company is a signatory of Global Compact and other leading global entities. It evaluates the assurance (3rd party audit) of the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of its Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility reports.

Emerging Markets ESG:  CSRHub uses more than 200 data sources.  Is there a common thread among the data these sources provide or are the data points heterogeneous?

Bahar Gidwani:  We work with a wide range of sources.  This is consistent with our goal to get a “360 degree view” of a company’s performance.

Type of Source Number Percent
Business advisor (e.g., BSR) 9 4%
For-profit business (e.g., Glassdoor) 7 3%
Consultancies (e.g., ISOS) 6 3%
Government (e.g., EPA) 18 9%
Stock indices (e.g., Calvert) 9 4%
Wall Street-related SRI 13 6%
Not-for-profit business (e.g., Climate Counts) 86 43%
Publication (e.g., Newsweek) 53 26%
Total 201 100%

The table above shows input from an investor perspective (Wall Street-related, stock indices), an activist perspective (not-for profit), an expert view (business advisor and consultancies), and representatives of the public (for-profit businesses, government and publications).

We integrate any source that meets these criteria:

  1. Original data that relates to a sustainability issue (generated and developed by the source and not just re-reported).
  2. Coverage of a number of companies—enough that we can compare the offered data against the information we get from other sources.  Via this comparison, we are able to map the data properly into our schema, normalize the data values to remove bias, and properly weight it.
  3. Updated at least annually.  We seek to track company change—and to provide a feedback loop that will encourage companies to improve.
  4. Company-level.  Many sources offer data on products, buildings, or the performance of CEOs, CFOs, etc.  We are interested in company-level ratings.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Which percentage of the 6,700 companies CSRHub covers are in emerging markets?  Is interest in ESG analysis of emerging market companies growing?

Bahar Gidwani:  We currently cover 82 countries.  If you look at our coverage regionally, you will see that more than 33% of the companies we cover are outside of Europe and North America.

Region Number of Companies % of Total
Africa                 105 2%
Asia              1,058 16%
Caribbean                   60 1%
Europe              1,390 21%
Middle East                   88 1%
North America              3,230 48%
Pacific                  326 5%
South America                  148 2%
South Asia                  147 2%
Southeast Asia                  180 3%
Total               6,732 100%

Our visitors also come from a wide range of geographical locations:

CSRHub - piechart

As you can see, 28% of our visitors come from the developing world.

As we expand our coverage to include more small companies, private companies, and organizations, we expect to add even more data from outside the developed world.  We hope this will allow us to continue to get strong participation from users outside of North America and Europe.