Looking Beyond the List

As we can attest at The Panelist, the list phenomena is not new.  And for many genres it provides a great jumping-off point for selecting a book, movie or travel destination.  It also creates a lot of buzz and debate.  But when it comes to CSR, I have begun to wonder if these lists are such a good thing.

I just came across an article related to CRO Magazine's "list of top corporate citizens in their respective industries". The article read "CRO Magazine named Bank of America, Walt Disney, Entergy, Marathon Oil and Monsanto the top corporate citizens in their respective industries in its latest issue." 

My first instinct was, Disney (DIS)? Monsanto (MON)? Responsible? Now I don't follow either of these companies closely, but they've never struck me as particularly responsible.  Just watch the movie "The Future of Food."  You too will question how Monsanto can be considered good in any way.  But after further investigation, I found that Monsanto isn't on the list of their top 100 Corporate Citizens in general, only on the industry-based list. 

Here is how CRO explains these new lists:

This industry-by-industry approach is a new one for us, as we have ventured beyond the "100 Best Corporate Citizens 2007 list," published in our Jan/Feb issue, tweaked some categories and methodologies, and assessed how corporations measure-up against their sector peers. And, speaking of peers, perhaps the rankings will generate some peer pressure in how companies manage their corporate responsibility. But, more immediately, we wanted to show you how companies stack up.  Perhaps that’s not the most appropriate verbiage for a publication concerned about cutting carbon emissions.  But The CRO’s 10 Best Corporate Citizens by Industry 2007 cuts through any hype and haze, giving clear visibility to corporate citizenship leaders by industry.

Perhaps it is true that these lists will encourage corporate citizenship industry-by-industry, which is certainly not a bad thing.  But as both an investor and a consumer, I have found that sometimes even a company that does better than its peers is not a company worth investing in.  In the end, lists are like any consumer product; it does one good to read the fine print.