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Mickey Mouse improves his sustainability

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on March 18, 2009 at 6:32pm.

Content:

My daughter met Mickey Mouse several years ago in his Orlando home and was thoroughly excited. Of course, at age 5, she didn't know all that much about corporate social responsibility. Neither did Mickey, I think. Now that Disney have put together a first consolidated report covering all their businesses, I found myself compelled to read and review.  Mickey has aged well; now 50, he certainly has led a life of popularity. But just how responsible a mouse is he? There is no doubt, as is reflected in this comprehensive report, that the Disney image is one of clean family entertainment and responsible broadcasting, reflecting good basic ethics, integrity, promotion of diversity, harmony and impact on society. This comes out loud and clear in all sections of this report. Similarly, through their media channels, Disney have addressed difficult issues such as prevention of violence, health eating and more, thereby creating awareness and understanding, part of their positive impact on society.

Disney have published site or issue-based reports over the past few years, and 2008 reflects a step-change in approach. This is a process which still needs to mature.  I have come to expect from first-time GRI ‘C’application level self declared reports little more than sophisticated marketing brochures. I was hoping that Walt Disney wouldn’t prove me right. Whilst I do find that this report is fairly glossy, on the whole it does cover the core issues of the entertainment and media sectors.  The report includes content standards, marketing to children, healthy food at Disney venues,  environment, journalistic integrity, Disney merchandise, workplace impacts and more. A large part of the report is philosophy and approach, presented very positively. Just a touch too idyllic.  I miss metrics and meaningful data in many sections.

The most material area of activity for Disney is the impact on children (and families) reported over 10 pages. I would have liked to have seen some evidence beyond Disney's well-known approach to family entertainment that the Company assesses its impacts in this area. Clearly Disney have a major following, but data demonstrating a positive impact on child development and healthy lifestyles, stated aims, would give this report a little more punch.  Numbers, ratings, viewing rates, interchanges with kids, surveys – for example.  Some data is presented about  adoption rate of healthier children's meals as part of the Disney food program, and exposure to Disney (39 billion hours of Disney immersion per year!). The Governance section reflects legal minimums and does not give the impression of true engagement of the Board which "periodically" receives reports of CSR performance. The stakeholder engagement section is flimsy and does not indicate strong practice. Materiality is not really presented in detail. Environmental impacts get good coverage with core data on emissions and water and waste. Community involvement is extensively reported, including donations and volunteer hours.  Supplier diversity and supply chain development and monitoring are advanced and Disney's disclosures relating to factories producing Disney-branded products are excellent. They include data on compliance, Disney responses to activist attacks on supply chain conditions in the Far East and details of collaborative initiatives Disney is involved in to improve working conditions in sourcing countries.  All in all, a worthwhile 100 pages. 

Communication:

I am impressed with the modesty that is displayed in this report. It doesn’t pretend to be the reflection of a perfect application of CSR, but a next stage in an evolving process.  It's easy to find your way around the main report. In parallel, Disney issues a "suite" of reports for specific business units, together with a fact book which includes much of the Company background data. The on line version works well too. If anything, the report is a little too detailed, making it hard to digest and distil the main messages. Perhaps a little more focus in the next report might help.

Credibility:

There is an interesting statement related to targets included in the report "… all targets are subject to uncertainty, and there is no assurance that the targets will be achieved". Strange. No-one give guarantees that targets will be achieved, but this is rather hedging their bets. In the area of environment, there are some good quantified targets.

There is a promise to consider verification (assurance) in the future. It certainly would add value to see some form of assurance in the next report, which is 2 years away. 

 The sense from this report is that Walt Disney have put major efforts into driving corporate responsibility performance forward to a new level, but the sheer size and complexity of the Disney operations makes it difficult for them to move fast. The report projects commitment and intent; it's a little frustrating not to see just a little more disclosure of substance, after all, this is not the first time for reporting, just the first time for reporting all in one package. However, there are some good signs of progress and a promise of future achievement. When I take my daughter back to Orlando, I expect Mickey to host her in his eco-home, dressed in an eco-design Mickey outfit serving organic fruit and fair trade coffee!

Recommendations:

1. Keep progressing, and drive data collection in the business, reflect it in the report
2. Start thinking about impacts, not just inputs
3. Add a little more focus to the next report, at the expense of extensive detail

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel,  specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.