The Swiss edition of .future provides a timely assessment of the current state of sustainability in the country, as it debates whether to impose mandatory non-financial reporting requirements after a campaign for greater transparency.
In this first edition of .future in Switzerland, we examined the 50 members of the SMI Expanded index plus 10 major private and state-owned companies, following up on six Swiss studies carried out by Lundquist over 10 years through the CSR Online Awards.
The research is conducted in two steps: a “core” evaluation checks if companies meet a minimum requirement of environment, social and governance (ESG) information; those that reach the average score (42% in the case of Swiss companies) receive a full assessment organised in two pillars:
- “Substance”: looking for information that stakeholders say is critical to evaluating how a company manages material impacts and projects its agenda for change
- “Distinctiveness”: showing how the business is meeting its societal responsibilities and engages audiences in a wider conversation about a better future.
Credibility is rooted in communications that exploits the best of digital to engage the user but is grounded in transparency and a rigorous, strategic approach.
Sleeping in Switzerland?
The key point to emerge from our research is that Swiss companies are consistently falling below the mark in providing the essential building blocks of sustainability communications. For almost all companies, it’s the substance that is the weak link with many lacking a robust and structured approach to non-financial transparency.
That’s deleterious, because we know how important it is for credibility. We flunked 55% of Swiss companies in our test of online ESG content: that’s four times higher than our benchmark of Europe’s top 50 companies but in line with our previous Swiss study two years ago.
Encouraging signs: Sustainability strategy
Of the Swiss companies that qualified for a full evaluation, almost all of them (81%) manage to complete the first three steps of the strategy “stairway” defining their sustainability commitment, identifying priority issues and laying out related targets.
The challenges emerge on the final two steps: while most companies publish performance and mention, for example, the SDGs, only about a quarter of companies link this information to their strategic objectives.
Sustainability in a story
Digital has opened up new ways to communicate and continues to bring us new tools, but sustainability storytelling needs to address material issues and be relevant in a wider context to avoid the trap of self-referentiality.
Stories, articles, videos, blogs: these are just some of the ways companies today are looking to go beyond traditional disclosure and share their sustainability message more widely.
How are Swiss companies coping with storytelling?
HOW DO THE COMPANIES STACK UP?
A couple of Swiss companies fit this description – Credit Suisse and Zurich Insurance – and only by a small margin. It’s not common to find detailed and exhaustive information about sustainability on Swiss websites: only four companies scored 50% or more on the Substance pillar.
Just two companies – Nestlé and Roche – manage to make it into this top category and do so quite comfortably, striking a good balance between Substance and Distinctiveness. The number of Swiss “Narrators” is far below our European benchmark (18% of Europe’s top 50 companies).
About a quarter of the companies we assessed finished in this quadrant. Companies at the top end here and ready to break into a higher category include ABB, Firmenich and Sonova. Below this level, a staggering 33 companies (55%) fail to meet our minimum standard for sustainability information (“Core” evaluation) and didn’t qualify for a full assessment (they are “Sleepers”).
More than 1 in 10 of the Swiss companies we evaluated fell into this category, led by Clariant, which stands out for its storytelling approach and good user experience, followed by Syngenta and Givaudan. Some of these companies are not far from the “Narrator” category but suffer from shallow content on the website.