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Corporations Rank Nonprofits in First-of-Its-Kind Report

Alexis Petru
| Friday February 21st, 2014 | 0 Comments
Activists from Greenpeace, named as a “brand challenged” NGO in a recent report ranking nonprofits, protest illegal shipments of timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo to France.

Activists from Greenpeace, named as a “brand challenged” NGO in a recent report ranking nonprofits, protest illegal shipments of timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo to France.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) rank companies all the time: Greenpeace rates electronics companies for environmental responsibility in its Guide to Greener Electronics, and the World Wildlife Fund’s Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard classifies corporations by their efforts to use sustainable palm oil. But no one has evaluated NGOs for their influence, credibility and effectiveness–until now.

GreenBiz Group, publisher of GreenBiz.com, released its first-ever GreenBiz NGO Report at its annual GreenBiz Forum in Phoenix this week, asking 200 companies–about three-quarters of which have a revenue of more than $1 billion–to scrutinize 30 of the largest NGOs.

“For years, we’ve seen corporations rated, ranked and reviewed by a wide range of NGOs. This is often part of a name-and-shame campaign compelling big brands to make big changes,” said John Davies, GreenBiz’s vice president and senior analyst, in a press release. “We decided to turn the tables and have sustainability executives rate leading NGOs.”

If you’re looking for a simple No. 1 through No. 30 ranking of NGOs, you won’t find it in this report, although Davies wrote on GreenBiz.com that this type of list is a goal for future versions. Instead, NGOs are classified into four categories: trusted partners, useful resources, brand challenged and the uninvited.

Only three NGOs–The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund–garnered GreenBiz’s top ranking of trusted partners: They’re corporate-friendly, highly credible organizations with long-term corporate partnerships and numerous success stories.

Greenpeace, Oxfam, Natural Resources Defense Council and eight other groups were categorized as useful resources–highly credible organizations that have created helpful programs and services for their corporate partners.

“Brand challenged” NGOs–organizations that were found to be credible but not very influential–included the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Working Group and Basel Action Network. Groups that are not well known or viewed as critics rather than partners fell into the most undesirable ranking–“the uninvited”–such as Earth Justice, Earth First and Rainforest Action Network.

While it’s too early to gauge NGOs’ response to the GreenBiz report, it is clear that GreenBiz developed the study not to “name and shame” advocacy groups, but to help them in their efforts to change corporate behavior and policy. The report doesn’t simply rank the nonprofits, but provides insight into how and why the business community wants to partner with NGOs.

The report surveyed GreenBiz’s 3,200-member Intelligence Panel, representing both large and small businesses in a wide range of industries, and received a 7 percent response rate.

When asked on which issues business panelists wanted to collaborate with NGOs, both large and small companies identified the same top three priority areas: climate change, community engagement and energy (both renewables and energy efficiency).

The majority of business panelists surveyed also indicated that they prefer to work with NGOs in long-term partnerships, while less than half said they engage with NGOs on short-term projects. Only 4 percent reported that they do not collaborate with NGOs in any way.

Interestingly, the report examined the effect of “name and shame” tactics by NGOs: Earth First activists chaining themselves to trees to prevent logging or Greenpeace staging a breakup between Ken and Barbie to protest Mattel’s packaging sourced from rainforests. More than half of the panelists surveyed said their companies had been the target of an NGO campaign in the past five years, and 6 percent reported that the nonprofit’s threatened action was withdrawn once they agreed to work with the group.

Nearly half of panelists viewed “name and shame” campaigns as neither helpful nor harmful, and 20 percent actually found the campaigns to be highly effective in motivating their company to change its policies. Only 5 percent thought the campaigns were harmful to their companies.

The report concluded with advice to NGOs from GreenBiz’s business panelists on collaborating with corporations–recommending NGOs develop a comprehensive understanding of an industry, product or supply chain before trying to lobby for change and to approach a company with a clear objective and concrete solutions. The panelists also cautioned nonprofits against generalizing all companies as anti-environment and asked that they don’t reward companies that make unattainable commitments and goals.

Whether or not this advice is welcomed by NGOs, Davies makes a strong case that advocacy groups should take heed.

“Our network members cited a number of examples where they feel business is moving faster than many NGOs and consultancies,” he wrote on GreenBiz.com. “… Company execs aren’t just looking for help with their CSR reports. They’re looking for specific expertise to support their sustainability goals.”

You can read the full GreenBiz NGO report here.

Image credit: Pierre Baelen, Greenpeace

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru


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