CR Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens “Way Off Base”

A senior corporate responsibility journalist has called Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s (formerly Corporate Responsibility Officer) 100 Best Corporate Citizens list “way off base” in a blog post published Tuesday.

Marc Gunther, who writes for Fortune and on CSR and environmental subjects said the inclusion on the list of oil companies like ExxonMobil (no. 51) and Hess (no. 10) and exclusion of the likes of Google and Whole Foods, seems bizarre.

As Gunther points out, coal-burning utility Southern Co. (no. 71) led the fight against the administration’s climate legislation, and Newmont Mining Co. (no. 16) operates mines in Nevada that have been a source of mercury poisoning.

If You’re Gonna Be Bad, Be Bad in Public

The contradiction seems to boil down to this: while anti-censorship crusader and green tech promoter Google does no evil (to paraphrase their mission statement) they aren’t always so transparent in doing so.

ExxonMobil and many other big multinationals, on the other hand, have been much more active in making publicly available data on their corporate behavior, good or bad — and the 100 Best list is “completely based on publicly available information.”

From Gunther’s post:

Essentially, the list takes a mechanistic approach that rewards structure and transparency — enacting policies, reporting and measuring data and publishing all of that on a website — at the expense of substance.

Like U.S. News List, For Corporations

Gunther reported many CSR officers told him companies are well aware of how the list works, and how to push their company up in the rankings.

“We’ve had long discussions inside our company about the CRO,” a GE insider tells me. And, just as colleges try to game the U.S. News list, companies that understand the CRO list do their best to hit the right data points. Campbell Soup Co. moved from the 400s to No. 12 this year because Dave Stangis, the firm’s vice president of corporate responsibility, made sure the company did all it could to improve, he told me.

Gunther floats other explanations for who did and didn’t get on the list, including the possibility that CR Magazine is biased towards the large corporations that fill out its affiliated association of corporate responsibility officers.

The skewed nature of the list, such as it is, may instead serve as a reminder for those seeking to change the way corporate America does business: honesty is just a first step on the road to true responsibility.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.