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S4 E6: Sustainability Awards with Michael Diegelmann
Episode 621st March 2024 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
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Michael Diegelmann, co-founder of the Global ESG Monitor, discusses the role of award programs in recognizing and promoting sustainability efforts. He highlights the importance of awards having a clear meaning and criteria, especially in the field of sustainability.

Diegelmann emphasizes the risks of using misleading logos and claims, citing examples of companies facing lawsuits for false sustainability claims. He introduces the Integrity Star Award, the first objective sustainability award that focuses on the quality of sustainability reporting and provide companies with valuable analysis.

For companies considering entering an award program, it is essential to carefully evaluate the program's criteria and methodology. Diegelmann advises against entering awards where the jury is put together by the sponsors, as this can raise questions about the award's credibility. Additionally, companies should look for programs that have a robust set of criteria and a clear methodology for selecting winners.

One of the key differentiators of the Integrity Star Award is that every company that enters will receive an executive summary of their results. This summary, which is 15 to 20 pages long, provides companies with valuable insights into the quality of their reporting and identifies areas for improvement. This feedback is crucial for companies looking to enhance their sustainability efforts and align their reporting with best practices.

Key Takeaways

  • There are many awards in the field of sustainability, but few have a meaningful impact or a comprehensive methodology.
  • Companies should be cautious about using sustainability logos and claims without understanding their meaning and criteria.
  • The Integrity Star Award is the first objective sustainability award that focuses on the quality of reporting rather than specific business models.
  • The Integrity Star Award program provides companies with an analysis of their reporting, highlighting their strengths and areas for improvement.

About the Guest

Michael Diegelmann is co-founder of the Global ESG Monitor and founder and CEO of cometis AG. In his 25-year career he has gained a wealth of experience across the entire spectrum of investor relations. His specialties include IPOs, capital raises, ESG consultations, hostile and friendly takeovers (cross border), bond issues as well as corporate crises and all aspects of investor relations and financial media relations. Michael has a long-standing network of contacts to media, analysts, fund managers and many opinion leaders in the financial community. In addition, he is co-author of numerous specialist publications, including the bestseller “100 Financial Ratios” with more than 300,000 copies sold.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Michael Diegelmann:

Hi, I'm Michael Diegelmann, and I'm co-founder of the Global ESG Monitor. We have the goal to measure the quality in sustainability reporting and therefore help corporates improve their reporting on the road to becoming a sustainable company.

Abbie Fink:

There are countless award programs out in the world for organizations like us that represent clients to nominate and submit their business, their PR practices, their individuals. And we consider these as an opportunity to elevate their presence in their particular industry or in the marketplace. Michael, what do you think about award programs in general? And then as you represent and really promote the idea of sustainability and the importance to companies, what's out there as it relates to sustainability?

Michael Diegelmann:

In general, I do believe that awards have a purpose to be there, and it absolutely makes sense because it really gives the work of corporations a great way of appreciation. What we observe, especially in the field of sustainability, is that there is an inflation of awards out there. And because sustainability is so important for our planet, those awards should have a meaning. And therefore, it is crucial for everybody who's giving out awards that they have to have a clear idea of the meaning of this award.

Abbie Fink:

And are there a lot of award programs out there right now as it relates to sustainability?

Michael Diegelmann:

Yes, there are a lot of awards out there, especially for reporting. So you get a lot of design awards for the best sustainability report. You have CO2 awards out there. All kinds of awards that try to measure something. Yeah, there are lots of awards out there, but none really who has an impact in terms of a quality award.

Adrian McIntyre:

Michael, I think this is such an interesting issue to raise because whenever a topic is important, people will rush to kind of dominate the scene, to congratulate themselves, pat themselves on the back. And certainly we've seen in previous iterations around this topic, whether it was corporate social responsibility or other things that touch on sustainability, Environmental, Social, Governance, etc., all of these topics are sort of current and urgent. How are these winners chosen? Who's putting these awards together? Is it just a bunch of self-congratulatory greenwashing in the industry that's supposed to be focused on sustainability? Or is there some substance right now? How do you think about it?

Michael Diegelmann:

So in general, awards are given out by associations often or by publishing companies. And a lot of them out there have a good meaning. In the field of sustainability, because it is so complex and it's so difficult, I haven't come across an award yet that really has an in-depth meaning. And therefore, if you think about it, if you have a corporate social responsibility award, let's say you are very friendly to your own workforce, but then it turns out that you have child labor along your supply chain. What's the meaning on that? That doesn't make sense to go out there with those kinds of awards.

In terms of sustainability, many people around the globe take it very seriously. So, for corporations who enter into awards, they should be very aware of what is this award all about. Because otherwise they may use those logos that they get winning, and it gives the end consumer a wrong impression. And we've seen that, around the globe, using those logos or seals that more and more people stand up and say, look, don't do that. We call that “green claiming.” You're using a claim which is not appropriate.

I don't want to give any names, but there is a huge airline in the United States currently being sued for over a billion US dollars using the claim of being net zero. But they're not. And now they're facing a big lawsuit. So you really want to be aware of what kind of logos you're using. And actually, there is a big lawsuit who was lost by a corporation here in Germany from a big drugstore chain who also printed a logo on their product saying we are climate neutral. And an NGO sued them in a German court, and German courts are not like in the US, so it's really hard to win that lawsuit here, and they won. And that's crucial. This drugstore had to take out of the shelves more than 800 different product lines. That was a multi-million loss for that company. And I'm not saying they did that intentionally, They just didn't know. So for corporates who use an award logo, they should be very much aware of what's behind those kind of images that they're giving out to their audiences.

Abbie Fink:

So there's definitely value in participating in award programs. But as you mentioned, there are a significant amount of potential risks as well, if you start to align your brand with these claims, and there's specific requirements in order to say you're climate neutral or net zero. So what other risks might there be? And what can someone who's considering entering into an award program, what's out there? What can they be looking at in order to find a quality and reputable program to align themselves with if they are going to consider entering?

Michael Diegelmann:

I think the best thing to do is to look at the criteria. How is the decision being made? And many awards out there have juries, and the juries are often put together by the sponsors. Now, that leaves kind of an iffy kind of image to that award. So I wouldn't enter into an award where there's a jury, and the jury is put together by the sponsors. That's something I wouldn't do, especially not in the field of sustainability. That's number one. And number two is, what's the criteria of how the winners are being chosen? That's important, because if you don't know about the criteria, you don't know how to use those images that you're given to if you win.

And if there are only two or three or four criteria out there, then I wouldn't enter. It needs to have substance, because sustainability is being taken very seriously by many people. And it's not only about climate. It's also about human rights, for example. Just keep in mind, would you wear a shirt when you knew the cotton being picked and produced into that shirt was picked by children? You probably wouldn't. And therefore, you want to be very careful before you use any kind of seals or logos which claim something that you don't understand. So the criteria is very important and there needs to be a methodology behind it.

Abbie Fink:

You've been working in ESG and sustainability for several years now and have really a firsthand understanding and knowledge of the importance of it and what it means to the clients that we represent, businesses in general, and really to consumers who are making decisions about who they support, what brands they're going to engage with. And you're about ready to roll out a program that's addressing this idea of recognition and providing an opportunity for businesses and organizations to be recognized for the work they're doing. Do you want to talk a little bit about that program and what your thoughts are as it relates to participating in this new awards program?

Michael Diegelmann:

Sure. So our core business is that we analyze the reporting of corporations. And we want to answer the question to a corporation, what is a good sustainability report? And in order to be able to answer that question in a very structured way, we developed over the last four years a methodology. And that methodology has now over 700 questions. It has over 4,000 variables. And to come to that result, we have three different analysts, human intelligence, going through those questionnaires, answering the questions based on what the companies have disclosed. And this is what we deliver to corporates who really want to walk the talk and who want to know what's benchmark and therefore we can show them the gaps and we can lead them step by step to the next level.

Now we thought that methodology is great to build the first objective sustainability award out there. So we looked around. We looked globally. There are awards for ESG reporting, sustainability reporting, in several different areas on the planet, but none of them have a methodology. None of them have the quality approach that we have. And that's why we decided that we will use our methodology, our approach to measure quality in sustainability reporting, to give out awards.

And that's what we're doing this year. And I'm hoping to find many companies entering in that award. No matter where you sit on the planet, you can enter that award and get your rating there.

Abbie Fink:

Well, talk a little bit more about the award program. What's it called? Where can people find information? What's the entry process, the nomination process to participate? I'm assuming there is potentially a cost for entry. Talk a little bit more about how that will work.

Michael Diegelmann:

So the award is going to be called the Integrity Star Award. And integrity because it's all about how good in quality companies report on their progress they do in becoming a sustainable company, right? And we will have five different categories from a Platinum Integrity Star to Gold to Silver to Bronze. And we also have a Rising Integrity Star that we give out for those companies who are just beginning their journey.

And the website integrity-star.com will be live in a few days, so you can check that out, or you can go to GlobalESGMonitor.com and you will be redirected to the award program to enter. It's really easy to enter because—and that's also a big differentiator to everything out there—you don't have to fill out any forms or questionnaires. All you do is fill in your name, your company, agree to the terms and conditions, obviously, and enter a link which is leading us to your report. And with that link, our analysis starts, because one part of our methodology is to measure and look at the accessibility of information.

So that's important, because keep in mind that many sustainability reports are also written for minorities. So accessibility to the information is very important, and then accessibility within the document is very important as well. So that's how you do it.

The cost is 2,500 euros for the entry fee. However, if you submit through our partners, you get a discount. And one of the key differentiators is that every company who enters into the award will get an analysis of their reporting. Now, with my company, I've won several awards, but I also lost quite a few. And whenever I lost, I asked, “so why did I lose? Why didn't I become first or second place?” And I hardly ever got any response, and that annoyed me. So when we sat down, we said, look, we are going to analyze the companies anyway with those 700 questions, 4,000 variables, three times. We can give them for that 2,500 or 2,000 euros. They will get an executive summary of their results, which is also already 15 to 20 pages long. And with that summary, they can work. They will know, number one, how good is my report compared to the market? And number two, where are the gaps in my reporting? And those two questions cannot be answered so far from anybody I have seen in my business environment. So that's the true USP we have out there. And that's also why many companies, no matter if they're in the US, in Canada, in Mexico, in Europe, or in Asia, they can enter in that award and get their analysis.

Abbie Fink:

Well, I think a very important point of distinction here is that you are not awarding based on the physical report, but the content within it, and really what they've done. I think about how we submit for nominations as well, which is, you know, what is the narrative that we're providing in the nomination? How can we tell a great story for the judges, the jury, as you say, to read and feel compelled to give us an award, where this is really looking at what you did based on what you've already reported. And that's pretty significant. And I am with you on the, you know, we win plenty but when we don't win, we certainly like to know why. And nobody wants to share what we could have done better. That to me would be worth the investment. If you're taking this monitoring role and what you're measuring seriously, then having this analysis, whether you win or not, the analysis itself is a pretty important outcome for the program.

Michael Diegelmann:

Let me just say that a very important information is that we do not judge on business models. There are many sustainability awards out there who award, for example, the newest technology, which is a promise into the future, right? And again, that's been done by juries. We don't do that. We don't judge on a business model. If you are an energy provider and 90% of your energy comes out of black energy, coal, but you're transparent about it, then we believe that the stakeholders should be the ones who make a decision whether they want to work with you or not. So what we measure is the quality of your reporting, but we do not judge on your business model. Very important. And that makes it universal. And therefore, that's a unique thing we have out there.

Adrian McIntyre:

As we're wrapping up here, I want to underline something that I think is really unique and compelling about this approach. Because the entire premise of sustainability reporting is that you are willing to submit yourself to public scrutiny. You are willing to disclose the truth about supply chain, about all the different variables, the 4,000 items in Global ESG Monitor analysis. And so this award invites people essentially to submit themselves to be evaluated. And the premise is that that's a good thing, and that is something that you're encouraging others to do. I really like the way you've put together those two components, the rigorous analysis and judging metrics and the feedback to companies about where they're at, what they could do to improve, and that you're judging them on their transparency, not on if their specific business model aligns with a certain vision for a green future.

Michael Diegelmann:

Absolutely. And, you know, to sum it up, why should anybody be a part of it? I think, number one, we are the first objective award out there for sustainability reporting. Number two is we have a clear differentiator because our methodology has over 700 questions. It has over 4,000 variables and it's being analyzed by three different analysts from around the globe. And everybody who enters, no matter if you win or not, you will get an executive challenger report—that's how we call it—of about 15 to 20 pages long that you can work with.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.