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Review of 2008 corporate responsibility report from Motorola Inc.
A Streamlined Report and a Colorful Accessory
By Michelle Bernhart (True Blue Communications) on May 14, 2009 at 12:44pm.
The Motorola 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report is largely an online affair, with a supplementary 16-page document presenting selected stories.
The online version is clean and simple, without superfluous photos and miscellaneous information, and generally thorough. The site is organized into five sections - environment, suppliers, society, employees, and consumers - with additional information about business conduct, governance, and stakeholder engagement. The summary report takes a slightly more fluid (not to mention more engaging) question-and-answer approach that provides an in-depth look at certain issues. Frustratingly, an understanding of Motorola’s goals and progress requires reviewing both the website and the summary document, primarily because the useful information provided in the summary, such as Motorola’s work toward eliminating phthalates and other chemicals from its products, is either unavailable online or requires at least five clicks to locate. Thus, the “summary” report is not a true summary, but an important companion, like that colorful leather cover some of us just have to buy to accessorize our newest Motorola mobile device.
One of the situations that makes the site challenging is the absence of a single location for all of Motorola’s corporate responsibility goals. Users must piece the information together from the five categories, making it difficult to develop a consolidated idea of the company’s priorities, targets, and progress. The customary “priorities and results” table so often found in GRI reports is notably absent, requiring additional research to compare current overall performance to that presented in previous years.
Data related to climate change strategy is particularly difficult to align with Motorola’s goals. The report states both absolute and normalized goals, which is valuable, but not all data is presented this way. One graph and one table contain data related to Motorola’s carbon footprint, the table making it hard to see the mixed progress on greenhouse gas reduction. Of the four categories of carbon footprint impact for which year-on-year data is provided, GHG emissions unimpressively decreased in two and rose in two. Kudos to Motorola for providing the data (and for measuring employee travel impacts, which remains a struggle for some companies); pity it’s obfuscated by the table rather than an easier-to-view graph.
The report features clear language, with only occasional lapses into vague corporate-speak, mostly when addressing a potentially contentious issue like radio frequency exposure or privacy.
On a positive note, Motorola works hard on its supply chain practices and these elements of the report sparkle with both initiative and transparency. The report does a good job detailing the company’s supplier training and audit programs, as well as progress toward its long-term goal to reduce supply chain climate impacts, and the sobering results of a Motorola-commissioned study into the sustainability of metals sourced by electronics companies.
Throughout, the report could benefit from additional context. How does the company’s performance compare to industry averages? How should readers interpret a statement such as, “All our newly designed chargers use 0.10 watts or less of standby power”? True, most readers can correctly understand that this represents a small amount of energy, but how does it compare to other chargeable devices? To what is 0.10 watts equivalent in lay terms?
And, despite warranting its own item on the corporate responsibility home page, coverage of Motorola’s stakeholder engagement efforts is a bit light. It remains unclear what Motorola does with the feedback it receives from stakeholders (beyond suppliers), as this is never mentioned. The report also lists “responding to specific requests for information” as its first of three stakeholder engagement activities, but responding is by definition passive and not terribly engaging. Employees, among the most influential stakeholders in many organizations, are reduced in the “stakeholder engagement” section to a few lines about reporting ethical concerns and receiving environmental tips:
“We make sure our employees are aware of our environmental targets by publishing a monthly online newsletter, displaying on-site posters and running programs on Motorola TV monitors with tips for reducing energy use at home and work.” (It’s amusing to consider that the company provides tips for energy reduction via energy-consuming televisions.)
Elsewhere in the report, however, information is plentiful about various employee engagement efforts and much is made of 10,000 Motorola employees volunteering on community and environmental projects. Clearly, employees are engaged, even if the “stakeholder engagement” section is inadequate.
Some of the information in this report is presented with refreshing candor, such as an example of child labor uncovered - and addressed thoughtfully - in one of Motorola’s top-tier suppliers. But previous reports have followed the GRI Guidelines and been subjected to external assurance. The 2008 report is a notable departure (although GRI is mentioned deep in the site as a reference), which may represent a maturation in Motorola’s approach or simply a desire to scale back resources. Regardless, the information largely seems credible, although it’s unclear how, if at all, recommendations from Motorola’s previous external assurance provider have been addressed or whether the company is achieving its overall corporate responsibility goals.
Little about the report conveys the sense of no-holds-barred sustainability leadership one might expect from a multinational listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability and FTSE4Good indexes. For example, the company produces one “green” mobile phone, ‘Renew’, which is profiled in the adjunct report. However, it’s discouraging to see the company’s passivity toward environmentally-friendly product development, as expressed by Bill Olson, Director, Office of Sustainability and Stewardship, Motorola Mobile Devices, “As consumers become more environmentally aware, Olson hopes the demand for green phones will increase: ‘… As concerns about the environment grow, we expect the market to ask for more green phones.’ ”
Surely a company with as many popular phones and as much market share as Motorola can afford to adopt a leadership stance and help create a market for eco-friendly phones, just as it has created a thirst among developed world consumers for new phones and accessories every 18 months. Motorola should not sit back and “hope” consumers will ask for a more responsible product; it should create both the product and the market.
1. Reinstate the helpful “corporate responsibility goals” and progress table from previous reports so readers can easily track overall progress against objectives and targets.
Michelle Bernhart is the founder of True Blue Communications LLC, which helps organizations strengthen sustainability performance, achieve strategic objectives, enhance brand, and manage risk through credible and engaging communications.
Tags: Motorol, mobile phones, corporate responsibility strategy, stakeholder engagement, employee engagement