IBM says corporate executives have their hearts in the right place when it comes to corporate social responsibility efforts, according to its second annual global survey on the matter.

But that won't help unless companies collect more and more frequent data to measure and plan those efforts – something Big Blue just happens to have products and services to help out with.

The survey revealed an "optimization gap" between recognizing the need to do things like cut energy use and make more environmentally friendly products and actually having the information to do it, said Jeff Hittner, IBM's corporate social responsibility consulting leader.

"Everyone's going out and putting forth these new goals," he said. But less than a third of companies were collecting data frequently enough to "make strategic decisions," which to IBM's eyes is once a week or more.

Of the remaining companies, most were only collecting information on a quarterly or even annual basis, mainly for meeting reporting requirements, Hittner said.

"That's going to make it difficult for them to look at inefficiencies, and find out what's going on in their manufacturing" or other operations, he said. The blind survey polled executives about their companies' efforts on energy efficiency, carbon emissions, water use, waste management, sustainable procurement, labor standards and improving product composition and product lifecycle.

Collecting data frequently enough to make decisions can pay off, Hittner said. For example, IBM used sensors and frequent data collection and analysis to cut water use by nearly 30 percent and save the company about $3 million a year at its Burlington, Vt. semiconductor factory, he said (see IBM Dives Into Smart Water Management).  

It should come as little surprise that IBM has a rich set of offerings for executives who want to get more in-depth with their data collection, such as its "Green Sigma" consulting and Environmental Product Lifecycle Management services, which it has begun to tie into carbon emission measurement systems (see IBM Expands Efficiency Offerings).

IBM also has a partnership with Japanese sensor and automation equipment maker Omron Corp. to link real-world transportation data with IBM's logistics planning software to cut down on the fuel and resulting carbon emissions tied to moving goods (see Traffic Sensors to Catch Carbon Emissions).

And it offers procurement consulting services to help companies reduce the carbon footprint of the products and materials they use (see IBM to Focus Supply Chain Heft on Green).

But making use of such services will also require companies to start doing something the survey said most aren't yet, Hittner said – asking their suppliers to assist in the social responsibility effort. Nearly a third of companies surveyed weren't collecting any supplier information at all, he said.

Understanding how efforts will resonate with customers is another area where many companies are falling down, he added.

Nearly two-thirds "still don't understand their customers' concerns around CSR, and we found that 37 percent haven't yet asked their customers about their concerns on the topic at all," he said. 

Tags: corporate social responsibility, ibm