We all buy gifts for our friends and family during the holidays.  As we approach the infamous Black Friday that kicks off the Holiday shopping season, we would like to remind you to “buy better” and use Zumer as a guide when you are shopping.

Zumer has great coverage of electronics, apparel, sporting goods, and wellness and beauty products.  Try it out this year as you search for the perfect gift, and get more for what you buy.

Happy Thanksgiving.

We’d like to send out a big thanks to everyone who is part of our beta group and have helped to build Zumer to its current state.  Zumer works better everyday, and we ourselves are using it more and more whether we are in the drugstore, buying Christmas gifts, or new clothes for winter. 

We’ve brought Zumer to its current level with the help of only 1000 users.  Imagine how powerful a tool it will be when we open it up to millions of people worldwide that will be scrutinizing companies and encouraging more positive performance.

Zumer is moving ahead full force, and as you can see we have made significant progress in the design, functionality, and data quality.  Working with the Zumer community we now have over 550 companies, 2200 brands and 4500 products!  If you haven’t been to Zumer in awhile, come back and check out the new Zumer site.  Our design isn’t perfect (yet) and we are soliciting your help in making the Zumer site better before we open to the public next spring.

This fall we are putting a lot of effort into fine tuning Zumer. As part of our early user group we’d like to hear from you about the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is your chance to make Zumer look like you want it to. Tell us what you think — we’ll change it.  If you want to join our beta user group, please send an email to info@zumer.com and we will add you to the list. 

Stay tuned for more updates from Zumer.

– Stephen.

Employee demand driving sustainability forward

Over the past few months, Zumer has attended several conferences. A common trend we have noticed is that companies are writing their CSR reports to communicate to an often overlooked stakeholder – their current and prospective employees.

I’ll admit that we too at Zumer have overlooked the importance of employees or prospective employees as an audience for CSR initiatives. While we are focused primarily on providing CSR data to consumers, we have also identified investors, students, researchers, NGO’s and community groups as some of the other segments that would be interested in the Zumer Database Project.

In November we attended the Global Reporting Initiative Briefing in Calgary, Alberta. At the briefing I asked Sue Lowell (Director of Sustainability Strategy, for oil sands giant Suncor) what audience was driving their sustainability reporting. While she named a long list of stakeholders, she emphasized how critically important it was to communicate this information to Suncor employees. A copy of the CSR Report goes out with job offers, it is given to current employees, provided in orientation, and is a key component of their recruitment and retaining practices.

Mark Brownlie, of Responsibility Matters, further articulated that while CSR information is important to investors and members of affected community, the people who “rally around the report are the employees.” In a tight job market, it plays a big part in retaining and motivating a workforce, and building a strong corporate culture.

These sentiments echoed the atmosphere of the Net Impact conference the week before in Nashville, Tennessee where MBA students from the top Business Schools across North America were on their game quizzing companies on their environmental and social policies. True, career searching has a large component to play in any Net Impact Conference, but time and time again students were making the connection between Zumer and power to be used as a research tool consulted when deciding what company to build a career with. It is quite evident that this generation of talent has several options and there are several factors that come into play into their career decisions – these are aspects that go beyond a dollar sign, and extended benefits.

Scott Noesen of The Dow Chemical Company probably said it best when he mentioned that within the next ten years, 50% of their employees will be eligible for retirement. This is a major demographic change and Dow Chemicals in not alone in this crisis. In such a situation, it will be the top performing companies both financially and socially that are able to attract the top talent in such a competitive job market. Dow Chemicals has the added difficulty in living down a past legacy, which has been a major driver in changing both their image and their policies as people no longer want to work for a “big bad chemical company.”

After all, who would you like to work for?

One of the most common questions we encounter at Zumer is:

How can you compare something as complicated as corporate social performance?

True, corporations are incredibly complex entities with multiple subsidiaries, operations spanning the globe, varying ownership structures, and intricate supply chains. One only needs to think of the fact that the tobacco company Phillip Morris used to own Kraft Foods, or that Small Planet Foods is owned by General Mills and you want to throw up your hands in frustration as to what seems an impossible task.

In all reality, it is not quite as hard as one may think, and while difficult, it is a task that can be achieved thanks to the work of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The GRI has made excellent progress in standardizing how and what companies should report on, in terms of environmental and social performance. This allows us to compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges, rating companies on their performance in comparison to their peers.

What is the GRI?

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the global de-facto standard for non-financial reporting. Based out of Amsterdam, the GRI is an NGO that brings together an international network of thousands of stakeholders from business, civil society, labor, and professional institutions. This network creates the content of the sustainability reporting framework in a consensus-seeking process. Founded in 1997 by sponsors such as Boston based non-profit, CERES, the GRI has grown to encompass a network of over 30,000 individuals and is a collaborative center of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The GRI provides the framework for companies to report on over 70 indicators relating to the Environment, Society, Economic, Labour Practices, Human Rights, and Product Responsibility.[1]

In its short history the GRI has made exceptional progress and has been a major catalyst in promoting the growth of non-financial business reporting. After ten years in existence it has become the international standard with over 1000 multinational corporations reporting by its metrics. These are not simply companies that sell health-food and green cleaning products, but some of the largest and most well-know companies around.

Business Week recently reported that 80 % of the top 15 global brands issued reports using metrics developed by the GRI.[2] And of those, the top five brands: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, General Electric and Nokia, all issued GRI reports.[3] Likewise over 50% of the S&P 100, and 20% of the Fortune 500 are reporting by GRI standards[4]. Needless to say, the GRI has been quite successful in getting buy-in from the biggest companies out there.

The importance of the GRI

While standardized sustainability reporting may not be the sexiest innovation to take the “environmental world” by storm, it is probably one of the single most important steps to making an impact on how corporations can reduce their environmental and social impact.

To make a parallel, there once was a time when corporations did not have GAAP accounting rules and financial information was reported in whatever means would make the company look the most favorable. Over time however, accounting became a regulated profession, GAAP rules emerged and public financial reporting was required if a company wished to be publicly traded. This innovation not only exposes corruption, polices taxes, and protects shareholders, but it also allows managers to monitor corporate performance and identify strategy within their organization.

Does the fact that a company reports by GRI standards make them a good corporate citizen?

No, reporting in itself does not guarantee that a corporation is acting responsibly. It is however, the first step towards identifying areas of improvement, strategic objectives, and monitoring past performance. To use the accounting adage: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Furthermore, reporting by GRI standards and making this information publicly available allows companies to be held accountable for their impacts and is a way for consumers to cut through the PR and marketing spin and make informed decisions.

This is where Zumer comes into the equation — ultimately our mission is to make this corporate responsibility performance accessible to the conzumers. Instead of glossy reports sitting in boxes gathering dust, we want these reports to be read, we want them to be debated, and we want them to play a role in purchasing decisions.

If conzumers begin to use this data when they buy, corporations will change, and it will be a race to the top instead of a race to the bottom. After all, corporations are only as strong as their customers.

What kind of customer do you want to be, and what kind of corporations do you want to see?

[1] http://www.globalreporting.org

[2] http://governancefocus.blogspot.com/2007/08/sustainability-reporting-more-common.html

[3] http://www.developmentcrossing.com/development_crossing/2007/08/global-leaders-.html

[4] http://blog.businessgreen.com/2007/08/view-from-the-2.html

You are still probably wondering, “What is this Zumer all about?” Well it’s a big idea and there is still a lot to discuss. We will continue to elaborate on the Zumer concept in successive posts.

A more down to earth explanation is that Zumer is here to take all the non-financial information that leading companies produce to tell the world how they impact the environment, how they interact with the communities, how they treat their employees and highlight both their faults and their strengths. Zumer will collect all this information and put it into one an easy to reference site so that you, the conzumer can easily compare corporate performance.

What does best mean? Well that depends on you. You might want a company to work harder to create a better environment, or give more money to charity, or have strong anti-corruption policies to stop another Enron from happening.

The ultimate goal of Zumer is for people to consider this every time that they purchase a product so that we can align our consumption with our values. If we all begin to do this, it will send a strong message to companies about what is important to us, and instead of competing for our business via slick advertising campaigns and celebrity endorsements, they will begin to compete for customers based on their actions, their values and their contributions to society.

After months of development, Zumer has pulled up to the starting line and is ready to launch the Zumer Database Project.

What is the Zumer Database Project? Simply put, it is the aspiration to create the world’s most comprehensive, accessible and up to date depository of Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) performance information.

Are your sneakers made in sweatshops? Which oil companies are embracing renewable energies, and which are simply financing slick marketing campaigns. Which electronic company produces the most environmentally friendly laptops? Is “Fair-trade” really all that fair?

The answers to these questions exist, but they are scattered in reports, books, discussions, and commentaries. Zumer will provide you with the tools to access this data — so that you can make informed choices quickly, accurately and with confidence. This data will be ubiquitous and available to conzumers everywhere they go, so that we will no longer purchase products from companies that do not align with our values. You will be able to vote, every single day with every single purchase.

Ultimately, the real power of ZUMER will be its ability to instigate change. ZUMER will be able to aggregate the small steps forward people take everyday. The incremental changes by millions, will be communicated to other Zumers and most importantly to back to corporations. It will be a positive feedback loop, and will engage and pressure companies in a way that has never been done before.

How will the ZUMER Database be built? It will be built by you. Just as Wikipedia has created the largest and most accurate encyclopedia in existence, the Zumer Database Project will be a collaborative undertaking, harnessing the knowledge and ingenuity of the commons, covering every company, in every language, in every corner of the globe. It will be scrutinized by your peers, it will be debated by specialists, and most importantly it will hold corporations to a new level of accountability and transparency which has never been seen before.

It is a project that will evolve, that will grow, and whose collective vision will ultimately bring a shift in the corporation’s relationship to society. ZUMER is your personal agent working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, representing your values and your goals.

The ZUMER site will be in private Beta over the next few months with University Business Schools and other invited users as our first participants in the ZUMER Database Project. These groups will seed the depository of corporate information, researching corporate performance indicators from companies all over the world.

The University of Victoria Business School, one of Canada’s leaders in business sustainability education, is the first participant in the project. Dr. Monika Winn & Dr. Michael Valente will be using ZUMER as a teaching tool, in their innovative “Decision Making for Responsible and Sustainable Global Business” course. http://communications.uvic.ca/sustainability/teaching.php Distinctive in Canada as the only mandatory business curriculum focused on sustainability within the business context, this fall will see over 240 students contributing their research, to the ZUMER Database Project and scrutinizing and critiquing the performance of the top corporations in the world.

ZUMER would like to thank Monika and Mike for providing valuable feedback and paving the way for the ZUMER Database Project.

The ZUMER Database Project is currently in private beta. If you would like an invitation, please send us an e-mail at info@zumer.com.