With the roll of drums and the crash of cymbals, the gladiators for next year enter the arena. These are the global warriors of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).
They don’t bow or mumble strange sentences in Latin; instead they simply give themselves a hearty clap on the back and get on with the job in hand, bestriding the world as champions of business sustainability.
Every year companies from all over the world seek to qualify for membership of the DJSI. Each is measured against 12 criteria covering economic, social and environmental issues and those who score over a certain threshold are allowed in.
Which is all very well, but what about their websites? Well I have to admit I haven’t been through every single one with a tooth comb, but one caught my eye as worth highlighting.
This is Abbott Laboratories: one of the oldest healthcare companies in the world, who pioneered an early form of the modern-day pill and has continued to lead in HIV screening technology.
They’re the fourth largest healthcare company in the DJSI and the only one from the Fortune 100. Its website contents are deep and rich, but they leave something to be desired when it comes to navigation.
Using the banner of “Global Citizenship” to headline its sustainability the company lists twelve subsections under which it reports it activities on the left hand side of its webpage.
These range from Corporate Governance through to Customers, Suppliers, and Global Communities, showing the degree of thought which has gone into identifying these key aspects of the business’ sustainability.
When clicking on each of these further subsections are revealed which provide additional information about the subject area. At times these go far deeper than would normally be expected.
For instance, the Key Issues identified by the company include Animal Testing, Infant Nutrition, Neglected Diseases and Sales and Marketing Practices. These are not necessarily issues you would expect a medicine manufacturer to tackle head-on.
The right hand side of the website contains links through to specific content users may come to look for in particular. These include Press Releases, the company’s GRI G3 report and a data table detailing its CO2 emissions and water usage.
Managing the Material
Where the Abbot Laboratories website is let down is the presentation of this material. For instance, the double margin approach makes it difficult to read the text in the centre.
Similarly although the company’s resisted the temptation to make their website a duplicate of their Global Citizen report, they’ve kept the same report writing style when putting together content for the website.
This means the content is very stodgy and relatively indigestible. It reads exactly like a report, slow and step by step.
What online users require is something faster paced, with that one ingredient the internet can give which printed documents cannot: hyperlinks. These are vital because they allow a user to skip between sections at will.
Without them you may as well be looking at a printed report because the effort required to find the next bit of information which piques your interest can be just as time consuming as leafing back and forth through pages.
This is a pity, because there really is a lot of information on the website. It’s just not particularly well laid out or presented. For example, there are charts on a variety of issues but only one overall table is pointed to from the top level.
Similarly, several subsections include company policies within them but there is no overall list of policies available.
If companies like Abbott Laboratories are on the right track then they deserve the recognition membership of a group such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index brings with it.
However if they are to communicate their sustainability to as wide an audience as possible they need to sharpen up their act and recognise that presentation on the web is a wholly different prospect to presentation in a report.
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