Business Brains

Use sustainable business practices to solve Corporate America's image problem

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When I was growing up as a late-70s Jersey-girl-teen, I was so naive that someone once had to explain to me what the vice squad was. Let's just say th...

When I was growing up as a late-70s Jersey-girl-teen, I was so naive that someone once had to explain to me what the vice squad was. Let's just say that my reputation was something I guarded carefully, because I didn't know any better. Or actually, I should say that I didn't know any worse.

Flash forward 30 years and I'm thinking of reputations of the business sort, prompted by a recent survey from HarrisInteractive. A poll released by the research firm reported that the public thinks more poorly of American companies that at any point in the past 10 years. Almost 90 percent rated the collective reputate of "corporate America" as "not good" or "terrible." Here's the survey, which is called the 2008 Reputation Quotient. Companies were rated according to six different areas. I'm listing those areas PLUS the companies that did the best in each:

  1. Social Responsibility: Whole Foods, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Microsoft
  2. Emotional Appeal: Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, amazon.com, Sony, General Mills
  3. Financial Performance: Johnson & Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Google
  4. Products & Services: Sony, Johnson & Johnson, 3M Company, Google, Kraft
  5. Vision & Leadership: Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, amazon.com
  6. Workplace Environment: Google, Johnson & Johnson, Sony, Microsoft, Kraft

Some other stats that I found particularly appropriate, and that are worth thinking about for your own company, regardless of the size:

  • Almost ALL of the respondents (a whopping 98 percent of the almost 25,000 American consumers included in the survey) think it is important for companies to act with a sustainable mindset
  • More than two-thirds of the respondents think that U.S. companies are lagging behind their counterparts in other countries when it comes to sustainability
  • Only 16 percent of the respondents think that U.S. companies will do something about sustainability without being forced
  • Almost 90 percent of the respondents said they think about sustainability when making a product choice

Hmmm, do you sense a theme here? Yes, yes, yes, cost controls and all the financial measures you're taking to recalibrate your company in this recession are important, but the takeaway from this survey is that U.S. businesses must do more, way more, to demonstrate leadership in sustainable business practices.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure