I don’t feel any commercial pressure. I don’t even know where it would come from. A big challenge right now is just to get everybody in the conversation on the same page about how to define the word sustainability. Given Bloomberg’s scale, the first opportunity we have is to bring some uniformity to the discussion. I think about that a lot. Then I think about stories, and as I think about stories, I don’t have the slightest idea of what Bloomberg-the-company’s relationships are.
Do you check to see whether a company you’re writing about is a client of Bloomberg?
No. There are a number of companies that provide data on sustainability metrics. So, to the extent that other people are citing Bloomberg data, I’m conscious of disclosing that they’re citing data that the people that pay me produce. But it’s no different than any other place I’ve been where we’ve had to make disclosures based on who the corporate parent is.
In terms of content, you do a good job letting your readers know what companies are up to—what kinds of actions they’re taking to minimize risks related to sustainability. But I haven’t seen a lot of reports that address companies’ faults versus their successes. There haven’t been many articles that point out what companies aren’t doing.
Here’s some context. Bloomberg journalists produce something on the order of 5,000 stories a day, and there is a subset of those stories that are on topics or about companies that are in our wheelhouse. So, for most stories, we are basically just curating what goes on the page and making decisions about how best to tell the sustainability story based on the prodigious output of Bloomberg News everyday.
Aside from that, sustainability is also a fairly new topic. One thing that’s interesting is that these [business] sustainability programs are only about five years old. For the academics, NGOs, and people studying them, there are not even enough years of data yet to be able to say, in aggregate, whether sustainability works for everybody or just for the companies it’s working for. There is a learning curve for every company that is very quickly becoming involved in sustainability and, actually, a lot of our reporting is about companies experiencing their own curves.
There’s been a curve for Bloomberg, too. The site is only two months old and we’re just getting into the critical questions that are central to the whole sustainability enterprise.
But you do intend to ground-truth some of these claims about corporate sustainability?
Yes. That’s central to our mission. And what’s particularly interesting about covering sustainability is the whole issue of “greenwashing.”
If you’ve ever thumbed through a company’s sustainability report, you know that these are highly researched, public documents. The core of sustainability, and the reason that the institutional investors are all clamoring for more kinds of data, is that they want greater transparency. So the central tension in reporting on this stuff is that you have this movement that is created to produce more transparency met by highly evolved communications divisions.
So how do you know what’s really going on and what’s just managed transparency? That’s one of the central things to always keep in mind as we dig into this enterprise. There’s even greater need for a critical eye because, although it’s all about transparency, the communication is highly managed.
Do you think these sustainability initiatives actually represent a fundamental shift in business practices, then?
Yeah. It’s much more widespread than it’s given credit for. And there are some very real physical things, material things that are driving this at its core.
Perhaps the easiest one to get your head around is this trend is population growth. There’s this OECD report from 2010—and there’ve been others—which estimates that by 2030 there could be 3 billion more middle-class consumers in the world. There are an estimated 1.8 billion today, so that’s 4.9 billion in 2030. That’s an enormous amount of stuff. Where is everyone going to get their stuff? Who is going to make it? And where are they going to put it when they’re done with it?