McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King have all been the target of government and investor pressure to cut plastic waste. Their inaction creates consumer backlash too. They are large, visible companies and people are watching.
With Earth Day upon us, together with the increased attention by the EU and the FTC on greenwashing, companies like these cause people to question how they feel about business and its role in the environment. There are strong opinions on either side. In a survey, earlier this month of 1500 executives across 17 countries, nearly 60% say their own organization is overstating its sustainability methods.
So, what makes a business a force for good and what doesn’t on the environment?
To find out, Bentley University and Gallup recently conducted the Force for Good study of 5,757 Americans to determine how they feel about business and its potential to make a positive impact on society, highlighting areas in which businesses, small and large, are failing to meet people’s expectations — and how they can do better.
The public’s expectations of companies like McDonald’s are borne out in our research. Here are some highlights:
- Americans are less positive about businesses’ impact on the environment. 53% percent say businesses in general have a negative impact, with this number rising to 65% for large businesses.
- More than 9 in 10 Americans rate four social and environmental actions as extremely or somewhat important for businesses to do: 1) use sustainable manufacturing (92%), 2) promote increased access to education and training (92%), 3) invest time and money into local communities (92%) and 4) operate in a way that is sustainable for the environment (91%).
- Just 1 in 3 Americans say businesses are currently doing an excellent or good job in any of these areas. For example, just 26% say businesses are doing excellent or good at operating in an environmentally sustainable way.
However, we have interesting findings on what companies should watch out for. For example:
- Small companies are perceived as better at most all stakeholder-related activities: Americans draw a sharp distinction between large and small businesses. They are twice as likely to say small businesses positively impact people’s lives (82%) as they are to say the same about large businesses (41%).
- Younger Americans – those looking to work for your company – expect more. Millennial (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) Americans expect more from businesses in terms of social and environmental responsibility than older Americans do.
These last two aspects are not the focus of most boards of directors either. Boards tend to have high average ages, and generally do not consist of Millennials, or next-gen directors, and most board research is focused on large, not small or private companies.