Information and communications technology giant Verizon misses the mark by failing to convey a clear strategy and lacking ambitious goals
Verizon, a Global Fortune 50 company, is the largest information and telecommunications provider in the US, with 170,000 employees. Verizon's 11th Corporate Responsibility Report is organised into four focus areas: human rights, supply chain, sustainability/environment and product responsibility. Although these areas are what the reader would expect the company to cover, the introduction lacks a clear description of how Verizon has attempted to tackle its most material issues. Instead, the report shifts to non-material, philanthropic activities, such as Verizon’s role in advancing social change in the areas of education, healthcare and domestic violence.
While laudable, some initiatives seem one-off and do not provide the scale of impact expected from a large company. Additionally, many of the case studies and data points lack context. For example, the Verizon App Innovation Challenge showed that “60% of winners were more interested in computer programming than before they participated” but it is unclear how many of the 7,500 participating students were winners.
The four focus areas are then described, but with varying degrees of clarity and context. Verizon would benefit from conducting a formal materiality assessment that incorporates both internal and external stakeholder viewpoints, making it clear what issues are most material to Verizon and therefore most important to report.
However, Verizon is making strides in key areas such as customer data privacy and security. As the first telecommunications company to publish a Transparency Report, the company is an industry leader in disclosing government demands for data and content blocking requests by country.
Verizon has also been addressing the issue of accessibility. Started in 2010, the LTE in Rural America (LRA) program (LTE being a high-speed data standard) is a “collaborative partnership with rural carriers to accelerate the deployment of rural wireless broadband services”. By the end of 2015, the programme covered nearly 2.9 million people in 15 US states.
Environmental impacts of operations and products is another focus area where there have been impressive gains. Verizon signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and is part of the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI).
Verizon’s goal is to halve its carbon intensity from a 2009 baseline by 2020 and it has already achieved a 40% reduction as of 2014. Setting goals is hard, but this one seems to have been too easy to reach. Perhaps Verizon should consider revising the goal to be more ambitious.
In the area of product responsibility, the company is raising the bar on supplier monitoring by working with a third party, EcoVadis, to measure how well its vendors are protecting the environment, safeguarding human rights, training workers fairly and making sure its suppliers are sustainable. The company set a goal for 75% of its assessed suppliers to meet its environmental standards by 2017, but the progress towards this goal needs context. How many overall suppliers are there and how many are assessed? Of the assessed suppliers, what percentage currently meet Verizon’s environmental standards?
While Verizon does provide goals and progress in some areas, there is no clear presentation of its overall goals with a timeline, metrics and progress toward them. Highlighting material issues would have elevated the report and communicated smarter thinking. Although a GRI G4 reference is included, it does not provide detail as to whether the indicator was partially or fully addressed.
The report website is easily accessible and has a clean design, with easy navigation for various devices. It offers a few high-level call outs and the option to build your own report based what you are interested in.
Verizon clearly takes corporate responsibility seriously but systematic goal-setting for focus areas and clear scope and context throughout would make more credible the company’s commitment to building a “brighter future for everyone”.
Kathy Tejano is a consultant at Context AmericaCSR technology strategy Human rights supply chain innovation stakeholder data Environment climate pledge eSustainability transparency