Pursuing the bottom line at any cost is a quick route to extinction in today’s business world. It’s time we all embraced the new era of corporate responsibility, says Richard Steer
For those of you who confuse CSR with American crime show CSI, be warned: 2008 is going to be the year of corporate social responsibility. In fact, I expect it to become as important for governance as the ISO standard has become for quality control.
For the uninitiated, CSR is a policy or decree that governs an organisation’s response to environmental and social issues. In short, it is about how companies manage their business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society, their employees and hopefully their clients.
Consequently it is the opposite of the “profit at any cost” diktat that governed the corporate philosophy of the eighties and nineties. In principle, CSR is about much more than hugging a hoodie, or a tree, since an organisation’s attitude towards CSR, or corporate responsibility as I prefer to call it, is something that increasingly affects everything from the people we hire to the clients we gain.
What this all means in tangible terms is creating an operating environment that balances a commercial objective against the demands of an ever-changing society. All this sounds rather pompous, but in our case we have adopted some creative approaches to making the workplace more acceptable.
This year in our London office we have introduced free Indian head massages – met with derision when first suggested at a practice board meeting, but now embraced by even the most sceptical senior executives, who queue round the block for a session.
In our Nottingham operation, two words that used to strike fear and loathing into equity partners – “pro” and “bono” – are now illustrative of a good deal of work being done for local charities by our project management and cost management teams. Perhaps not surprisingly, those involved in this work find they feel good about helping others this way.
We have appointed a partner on the main board to champion corporate responsibility around the business and this is essential to ensuring that its ethos is embedded in the DNA of the organisation.
It will not be long before those people whose testosterone-driven goal is to achieve the bottom line at any cost will be seen as the new pariahs of business. Look at the change in attitude towards the tobacco industry over the past 30 years.
This year the governmental panel on climate change reported that sea levels are rising at 20 times the average rate over the past 3,000 years. British firms exhale 66 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – of this, almost a third is wasted through poor building design and energy inefficiency.
Corporate responsibility is increasingly seen as just as important a part of the corporate profile as a mission statement or who sits on the board
Although I am not expecting our corporate responsibility to save the polar bears on its own, we embrace the fact that we are working in an industry that has a direct effect on pollution and energy consumption.
Part of gaining buy-in for corporate responsibility is leading by example, so last month’s Christmas party was eco-friendly for us, with transport to and from the venue by pedal-powered rickshaw, and all the energy for the event supplied by bio-generators.
This sent out a strong message to everyone that sustainability is not just about installing coloured recycle bins.
By consulting websites like www.bitc.org.uk or www.climategroup.com we regularly evaluate progress in reducing our own carbon emissions. It’s also worth noting that a recent report by a top services recruitment firm found 41% of employees say they would be more likely to accept a job from a firm with strong green credentials and that half felt their current employers did not take these seriously enough.
If you have a strong commitment to corporate responsibility I believe there is nothing wrong with telling people about it. Through our new TV channel, Gleeds TV, we are able to ensure that our office in Bristol could see our rickshaws unintentionally bringing London traffic to a halt.
Other more serious messages are also regularly aired, allowing two-way communication between staff and clients on issues that affect the way we all interact.
The recognition of corporate responsibility is without doubt here to stay, and is increasingly seen as just as important a part of the corporate profile as a mission statement or who sits on the board.
Research would seem to indicate that your corporate responsibility can be as important in determining who chooses to join your organisation as traditional motivators such as remuneration and status. Ignore it at your peril.
Richard Steer is the senior partner at Gleeds