Be a good corporate citizen

Why is it important?

Global warming is constantly debated in the press, and scenes of natural disasters – including flash floods, earthquakes and drought – are becoming TV news staples. The message is clear: we all need to work together to help tackle climate change and take responsibility for the impact our actions have.

July’s Live Earth concert, a music event which attracted more than two billion viewers, was initiated by former US vice-president Al Gore as a green SOS call to the world. He said it aimed to “empower individuals to change their consumer behaviours and motivate corporations and political leaders to enact decisive measures to combat the climate crisis”.

What does this mean for business?

The Future Leaders survey of more than 54,000 graduates, the results of which were released in January, revealed that nearly half of all graduates said they would not work for organisations they believed to be unethical.

The research, undertaken by sustainable development charity Forum for the Future and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, should serve as a wake-up call if your organisation does not already have any corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies in place.

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, believes CSR came into being because business leaders are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about global sustainability problems. This, coupled with society’s rising expectations of how businesses should behave, has persuaded them of the need – both financial and moral – to start taking responsibility for creating a sustainable future for the planet.

“Some companies were at the sharp end of campaigns from pressure groups – for polluting the environment, human rights abuses, poor working conditions in their factories and so on – and they acted to protect their reputations,” says Madden. “Once the more forward-looking companies started taking a more CSR-oriented approach, others followed.”

Major UK companies paving the way in sustainable initiatives include BT, Cadbury Schweppes, ICI and Unilever. For example, retailer Marks and Spencer is investigating the sustainability impact of every single area of its business, while other stores are helping customers make easier choices by stocking fair trade, organic and environment-friendly products.

How to get staff involved

Madden advises that you should ask your employees and stakeholders what they think are the most important issues facing your organisation. They are likely to have plenty of good ideas and will be pleased to be involved from the start. Make sure your senior management are leading from the front and doing their bit. Some companies have ‘green teams’ of volunteers to tackle issues such as energy use or recycling in the workplace.

Madden stresses you need to keep your messages positive and friendly. “Don’t go on at people about all the things they’re doing wrong,” he says. “Instead, tell them what they’re doing right, and how beneficial changes will be for the organisation in general, and their job in particular.”

For example, talk about increased job satisfaction, better publicity and more customers – make people feel excited about doing things differently.

What is the best place to start?

The most popular initiatives aren’t necessarily the best, Madden admits. Lots of companies put together a glossy report and think they’ve done their bit. Others donate a lot to charity, yet don’t address the direct impacts of their business operations. “Think about how your company is affecting your staff, local communities, suppliers overseas and the planet,” he says. A good place to start would be to prepare a climate change strategy. Honestly assess how your company is adding to the problem of climate change. Ask yourself: what could you do to reduce this?

If you only do 5 things

  1. Look at the Forum for the Future publication Leader Business for best practice case studies
  2. Get in touch with the Carbon Trust or Envirowise for free advice on how to cut your company carbon emissions
  3. Enter various award schemes, which will give you positive publicity and recognition for making a difference
  4. Consult your board and employees
  5. Set up a volunteer group

Expert’s view communicating corporate social responsibilities initiatives

How do I convince my chief executive and employees to embrace corporate social responsibility?

  • Show your boss that other business leaders – such as Tesco’s Terry Leahy, Virgin’s Richard Branson or Stuart Rose at Marks and Spencer – are tackling these issues.
  • Involve staff and listen to their suggestions. This will motivate them and give you lots of great ideas.
  • Show your staff how CSR will improve their future prospects. For example, more companies are looking for employees who are environmentally aware.

What if there’s no budget to introduce any CSR schemes?

  • Set up ‘environment teams’ to improve recycling, save energy and promote fair trade. Cutting waste and saving energy bring fairly quick returns. Managing CSR-type risks can help prevent problems in the future, and businesses that are innovating new sustainable and low-carbon products and services can win big new markets.

What are the cheapest and most effective CSR initiatives?

  • Ask a group of staff to draw up a CSR policy. Get them to consult staff and stakeholders, then get the senior managers to discuss it and commit to action. If you have already tackled CSR, look at climate change next – it’s probably the biggest challenge facing humankind. Alternatively, to raise awareness, you could:
  • organise a screening of Al Gore’s An inconvenient truth
  • have a lunchtime debate
  • get a prominent environmentalist to do a piece for your company magazine
  • go for dinner at an organic restaurant
  • get involved in local community projects or go fair trade.

Peter Madden
Chief executive,
Forum for the Future

For more info

Corporate Social Responsibility: Balancing Tomorrow’s Sustainability and Today’s Profitability
David E Hawkins,
Palgrave Macmillan,
ISBN: 023000220X


How to communicate new initiatives


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