People are often skeptical regarding the ethical engagement of companies, commonly known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Journalists and NGOs accuse businesses of ‘greenwashing’ their environmental and social commitment – often with reason: many CSR publications are written overly positive and appear like promotion material instead of providing nuanced and objective information. Even the annual CSR report – since 2017 legally mandatory for large corporations in the EU – suffers from credibility. But how can credibility of CSR communication be assessed? Read on to find out!
In their recent publication “Measuring credibility perceptions in CSR communication: A Scale Development to Test Readers’ Perceived Credibility of CSR Reports”, Irina Lock and Peter Seele develop a measurement that allows companies and researchers to evaluate stakeholders’ perceptions of CSR reports.
About the research
The measurement scale was developed over 5 studies and is validated in English and German. Practitioners and academics participated in initial stages to cover several subject and practice areas. This process resulted in the 16-items perceived credibility scale (PERCRED). It measures credibility of CSR publications along the dimensions truth (are facts presented?), sincerity (is the company trustworthy?), appropriateness (is it industry-specific?), and understandability (is the report understandable?). The English version is measured on a 5-point Likert scale (1-fully disagree; 5-fully agree):
|I think that the statements in the text are accurate.|
|I think that the claims made in the text are correct.|
|I am confident that the statements are true.|
|I think that the text uses the best evidence at hand.|
|The arguments are justified by the facts in the text.|
|The text reflects the genuine intentions of the company.|
|I think that the company’s intentions correspond with the text.|
|The text is not misleading.|
|The CSR report fits to the context of the _________ industry and its social and environmental challenges.|
|As a reader of this CSR report, I feel that the text addresses CSR issues well.|
|I think the text rightfully represents the company.|
|I understand the text.|
|The text is clearly written.|
|The text is written in an understandable way.|
|I understand the meaning of the text.|
|The text is easy to read.|
What are the findings?
Study participants rated CSR reports overall only somewhat credible, so companies have room for improvement in reporting credibly about their CSR.
In general, CSR reports should appear understandable to the reader, thus jargon and overly technical phrases should be avoided while sticking to the facts is a must. This balancing act poses a challenge for CSR communicators, but the study suggests it is worth it – communicating credibly about social and environmental issues can prevent greenwashing accusations and eventually pays off, because companies can receive and keep their “license to operate” from stakeholders. The PERCRED scale can help companies measure whether they are on a good path.