Burt’s Bees’ Multimedia CSR Report

Like a Ken Burns film on baseball or the Civil War, Burt’s Bees has decided to present its 2010 corporate social responsibility report by allowing people in the company to tell the story, rather than through a solitary voice.

The North Carolina-based maker of natural personal care products is eschewing the printed page in this year’s report for a multimedia presentation on its web site, featuring interviews with a host of company personnel, info graphics, links to additional information and video clips of activities inside and outside the Durham headquarters.

It largely works. The first job of a corporate social responsibility report is to effectively communicate with the reader/viewer. That might seem obvious, but too often so much emphasis is placed on category results and percentage changes you can hear the reader’s eyelids crashing to their cheeks.

An online report that is more than a digital version of a hard-copy report, obviously offers a number of ways to be more engaging than paper. With the Burt’s Bees report, there are numerous clips showing workers in labs, warehouses, offices, as well as off site such as at Raleigh’s Earth Day celebration.

But the biggest advantage video provides for a company is to have its people personally express their commitment to social responsibility and for stakeholders to determine if they’re doing it with a straight face. Promises can be made on paper and explanations can be convincing in black and white. When someone is on camera are they believable?

Through more than an hour of video during which senior executives and rank-and-file employees explain what the company is doing in areas such as packaging, product development, sourcing and employee engagement, Burt’s Bees makes a persuasive case that the firm is trying to become “the greenest personal care company on Earth,” as Chief Executive Officer John Replogle states near the beginning.

We learn that management is motivating the staff to participate in its mission by tying a portion of short-term incentives and annual bonuses to achieving sustainability goals. In the “Packaging” segment a packaging engineer manager explains how all of the company’s holiday gifts are packaged without plastic this year and how converting to corrugated endcap display trays helped them save 11,500 pounds of plastic from landfills. In the “Products” section a senior chemist talks about ingredients that go into Burt’s Bees’ products and the vice president of research and development talks of Burt’s Bees joining with competitors and the Natural Products Association two years ago to determine a standard of quality for natural products. This year the company had 91 products certified, up 25 percent from the prior year.

But what about the numbers? After all, it’s still a report. In fiscal year 2010 the results for Burt’s Bees were mixed. The company hit 91.2 percent of its overall sustainability goal, primarily due to falling short on energy and water conservation targets. Replogle explains that the company moved to a new location in Durham, a renovated old building in the downtown area. While beautiful, it has high vaulted ceilings and a lot of space that caused them to miss their targets. The energy goal was a maximum usage of 4.5 million kilowatt hours. Instead, the company went well beyond 5 million kilowatt hours. The water usage target was capped at 900,000 gallons. Actual usage was about 1.5 million gallons.

The company also conducts employee satisfaction surveys and shares the results. The score for overall satisfaction was down 0.02 percent from 2009. Three areas were off: management’s communication (down 0.14 percent); job satisfaction (down 0.05 percent); and satisfaction with the pace of changes in the company (down 0.03 percent). The company’s human resources vice president says all are being addressed.

Among the positives is the progress Burt’s Bees made towards its 2020 goal to be waste free. In 2010 it became the first company in North Carolina to achieve zero waste to landfill across its three operating facilities.

The company also has a goal to reduce green house gas emissions while increasing sales. The goal is a 35 percent reduction of GHG/sales dollar by calendar 2011 vs calendar year 2006. In 2009 it was 70 percent of 2006 figure, but that’s up from about 63 percent of the 2006 baseline in 2008.

And the company continued to promote its “ecobenefits” program which includes a subsidy to employees towards the purchase of a hybrid car. One worker who took advantage of the assistance explains in the “Culture” section of the video how it motivated him to buy a hybrid.

Burt’s Bees produces a comprehensive CSR report every two years and an update in the interim. That schedule is because “it’s a hefty responsibility and our resources are limited,” Director of Sustainability Yola Carlough explains in an early section on the report’s format.

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