Once again, we find that stakeholders who request sustainability-related information from corporations are singing along to the same tune, “will the real sustainability manager please stand up?” Excuse us Eminem, but the lyrics after that would have something to do with the on-going sustainability survey fatigue. We’ve heard and read about constant surveys and requests for information from customers, organizations, and the media about a corporation’s sustainability goals and performance. At CSRware, we are curious about how survey fatigue affects sustainability professionals. To enlighten us, CSRware reached out to one of our colleagues, Kim Vu, TE Connectivity’s experienced Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility Manager.
CSRware: We’re really eager to learn more about what you do for TE Connectivity.
KV: I do all of the CSR reporting, including the CSR annual report that we (TE Connectivity) put out each year, and reporting on any source of emissions. We have customer questionnaires, so I get maybe three a week, probably more, but they might not all come to me. Much of the information needed comes from dozens of people internally so it requires much coordination. That’s the communications part. The second part of my job is overseeing all of the CSR audits that we get in our manufacturing facilities. So customers will come in and see if we have under aged workers and all that kind of stuff. So my job is half communications, half operations.
CSRware: Is it just you doing that? Do you have a partner, or a team working with you?
KV: It’s pretty much just me. Everyone else does philanthropy stuff.
CSRware: We were reading on your Linkedin page that you are responsible for increasing TE’s Corporate Responsibility report from 18 pages in 2010, to 102 in 2012. Could you please tell us more about that experience?
KV: I remember when I wanted to increase it, they said “well, there’s really not that much to talk about.” You know, there’s always something to talk about. You have your GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), it’s a checklist so you want to make sure you hit a lot of that. But what happens is if you write it
CSRware: That actually leads to our next question. Have you come up against any backlash or criticism, initially?
Kim Vu: I think it was more just apprehension. So, what if there is backlash if we were to release some of this data? I mean, I haven’t heard any criticism externally about any of our numbers. It looks like we’re actually ahead of some other companies, like Google just now released their male-to-female ratio. I think for tech, we’re slow to release some of those numbers because we’re kind of embarrassed about it.
CSRware: We were reading TE’s corporate responsibility report for 2013 and the section on Supplier Social Responsibility caught our attention. Could you talk more about how TE is able to successfully say their suppliers hold the same sustainability values?
KV: So, everyone has to sign a contract that includes agreement to our Guide to Supplier Social Responsibility. And then we assess and do audits. So, we do the code of conduct signature, we send questionnaires, and then we do audits for the supplier facilities that we identify as high risk.
CSRware: Has that system worked for the most part? Or do you come across any challenges with your suppliers? For example, what if one supplier doesn’t want to commit to that?
KV: I don’t think it’s been an issue. I think some companies might not be as developed in their corporate responsibility programs, but they’re really willing to work with us.
CSRware: That’s good to hear!
KV: I don’t think we’ve had too many issues with, “no we’re not going to let you come in.” It’s been more like, “okay so what do we need?” It’s good because we’re accountable, because of our customers, right? Supply chain is really where it’s at for CSR.
CSRware: Can you tell us more about how you put the reports together in terms of data collection?
KV: We usually interview people to see what they’ve been working on and what they want to plan for in the future then you keep the plan for next year’s interviewer. Then I collect all the data, and normally what I do is I look at all the data we’ve been collecting. I try to read every CSR report that comes out. look to see if companies are putting something out there that’s new, and see if we want to put those numbers out and try to collect them. The most thorough set of numbers we have is the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Some of the numbers are harder to collect because they’re not just things we traditionally collected in the past. You have to ask people, “can you start looking into doing this next year?”
CSRware: What are the biggest challenges you face in terms of reporting?
KV: Definitely survey fatigue. It’s challenging. It’s something most people won’t be willing to answer in the survey. So I couldn’t just tell someone, “here’s your set of answers, go fill them out, and I’ll go check them.” I think people are just nervous about that. Survey fatigue for sure is one. I think that trying to get more data out, trying to be more transparent, is a little bit more difficult. Sometimes they ask questions that we might not be ready to answer, but most importantly, for a lot of these questions we just don’t have the data. It’s not something we’ve been looking at traditionally. So, it’s hard to decide what’s actually important, because you have to decide if the answers to certain questions really mean anything for your company.
CSRware: Do you think with the development of SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), disclosing information to companies and investors will help prevent survey fatigue?
KV: I’m hoping so. I think now that the industry is aligning more and more. GRI is putting stuff out with EICC (Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition), which is big in tech, so that’s really helpful. As far as SASB, they’re numbers are very different from what we’ve all traditionally looked at. It’s good that we’re all kind of trying to work together. I hope that we can come to a point where I can put out maybe five surveys a year.
CSRware: Do you have any suggestions for improvement within reporting at TE? Or any professional goals that you’d like to do with them?
KV: As far as goals, maybe working more on external goals. My main goal is to shift the industry.
The sustainability industry is constantly shifting, and as Vu mentioned, the industry is aligning more and more in terms of non-financial disclosures. All different kinds of surveys are popping up and asking corporations what their environmental and social footprint has been and will be. It would be difficult indeed to be able to measure across all industries, but with the development of sustainability reporting processes, standards, and metrics, at least the move is towards transparency. If we could harness that shifting energy towards collaboration between industries on the reporting framework, this could help decrease survey fatigue. Easier said than done? Of course it always is.
Feel free to look back on our previous blog post, “Survey Management, Not Fatigue,” with suggestions on how to correctly manage data and appease your survey fatigue.
A big thank you to Kim Vu who generously took the time to speak with us and share her knowledge! To learn more about TE’s CSR initiatives, please visit http://www.te.com/en/about-te/responsibility.html