Corporate social responsibility: Is going green good for business?

It is often said that charity begins at home and nowhere is this more true than in the field of corporate social responsibility.

While the focus for corporate social responsibility has traditionally been on donations organisations make to charities and the schemes they initiate to help disadvantaged groups, increasingly firms are regarding what they do internally as part of an overall corporate social responsibility strategy.

This trend comes through in the latest Corporate Responsibility Index published by the Business in the Community charity.

In an extensive survey of its 750 member companies, including 71 of the FTSE 100, it found an increased onus on the development and engagement of employees compared with the previous yearÕs report.

This year when extolling their corporate social responsibility credentials, organisations made twice as many references to training and up-skilling as last year and three times as many mentions of reward and recognition.

According to Patrick Mallon, director of benchmarking at Business in the Community, this trend reflects a need for companies to put greater emphasis on retention rather than just recruitment. It also points towards an increased belief that a company’s outward-facing brand must be matched by what goes on inside its walls.

Topping the Business in the Community’s corporate social responsibility index this year is the Co-operative Bank. The company is well known for its ethical stance, publicly stating that it won’t do business with unethical firms, but just as important is the way it treats its staff.

And while, according to spokesperson Andy Hammerton, many new recruits join the bank because of what it stands for – citing this on their application forms – the reason they stay with the company is the way they are treated by the organisation.

“People wouldn’t stay with the company simply because we are ethical in terms of the suppliers we work with,” he said. “We must also ensure employees receive decent rewards and benefits and they have the right working environment.”

This goes right down to having solar panels on company buildings and actively encouraging paper recycling within the company.

“Staff see these things as a first-hand demonstration of what we stand for as a company,” said Hammerton.

Nowhere is this symbiosis between how a company conducts itself externally through its corporate social responsibility programme and what goes on internally reflected more starkly than at electricity provider EDF Energy.

In a recent staff satisfaction survey more than 80% of its 11,000 employees said the work the company does with the community is a reason why they feel good about working for the company.

EDF runs a scheme where each employee can take two days out a year to do good work in the community – an opportunity taken up by about a quarter of staff this year. One scheme sees EDF ‘community ambassadors’ working with local Citizen Advice Bureau advisers especially in the area of consumer debt.

This initiative also enables employees to develop the skills they require for their work, according to community manager Alison Braybrooks. Because EDF provides electricity, it is dealing with members of the public everyday, some who may be struggling to pay their bills.

“We need to understand their overall debt problems, so the work we have done with the Citizen Advice Bureaus links back into the business and supports responsible business practices,” said Braybrooks.

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