Digging responsibility right into firms’ roots

Digging responsibility right into firms’ roots

Sharon Ward
The Scotsman

IN A world where much attention is given to fat-cat executives, collapsing pension funds and cutting carbon emissions, the ways in which companies can help in their local communities has often been low on the list of priorities.

However, the tide has turned and now firms wanting to be involved in the community can’t just write a cheque for charities and tick the box for being socially aware.

As consumers, investors, governments and the media become concerned with accountability of the corporate world, Samantha Barber, the chief executive of the not-for-profit organisation Scottish Business in the Community (SBC), believes many Scottish businesses are becoming more aware of their impact on society.

‘We are now seeing real changes in the external environment and the demand from companies has increased greatly.

‘It is no longer just an add-on, but an integral part of running the business. Companies are expected to be much more transparent in how they are conducting their business and measuring their impacts.’

Scotland, Barber says, with a sophisticated economy and a small population, is a country where the benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be realised to a fuller extent.

‘We highlight four main areas where CSR can have an impact: the workplace, marketplace, environment and community,’ Barber said. ‘How an organisation manages these areas can factor on their sales, reputation, brand recognition, staff performance and retention.’

Barber says her job is to work with all sizes of organisation – in the public, private and voluntary sectors – to support them and help them understand what corporate social responsibility is. The business returns include more employee commitment, lower staff turnover and better recruitment.

SBC is led by its member companies. Citing the 2006 campaign ‘Change One Thing’ by high street chain Boots, Barber says companies are genuinely able to improve their business practices.

She said: ‘People loved the idea of trying to change just ‘one thing’ instead of setting themselves too many unrealistic goals. Small changes did make a big difference and last year the firm helped 500,000 people attempting to give up smoking.

‘Additionally, 32,000 people signed up to the dedicated internet site and over 1.3 million people have now joined Boots Health Club.’

With a network of multi-sector contacts and 25 years of experience, SBC can enable companies to make their impact on society positive and productive, while gaining tangible business benefits.

And it is not just business that benefits. Every schoolchild in fourth and fifth year in Scotland is to be offered the chance to see former US vice-president Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth about the dangers of global warming, thanks to a pledge from Stephen Dunn, ScottishPower’s HR and communications director. Dunn, who has already given copies of Gore’s book of the same name to hundreds of staff, plans to work in partnership with the Scottish Executive to supply DVDs to all secondary schools in Scotland, with the intention that the DVDs will be included in the curriculum for the 2007-8 school year.

An Inconvenient Truth explores data and predictions on climate change, interspersed with personal events from the life of the former vice-president.

Dunn said: ‘The thing that grabbed me was that it’s actually quite a simple book, telling a simple story about the world and what we are doing to it and how we have the opportunity to improve it. That sort of very personal picture of what we are doing struck home with me. The film is equally powerful.’

In May, SBC will celebrate its awards for excellence in 2007 at the 25th anniversary dinner at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh. Sponsored by Scottish Power, KPMG, Scottish Enterprise, Weir Group, The Scotsman, Oracle, Alliance Boots, Scottish & Southern Energy and Communities Scotland, the awards provide recognition for businesses that are integrating responsible practice into their mainstream operations. They are independently judged.

Barber said she was impressed by the calibre of the companies applying. ‘Every year a bar is set and year on year we are performing well,’ she said.

A Social Enterprise award, in association with Communities Scotland, has been introduced this year. It is open to all social enterprises operating in Scotland. Firms need to show a commitment to responsible business practice and corporate social responsibility. Barber said this should be demonstrated through evidence of how the core business activity is addressing any of the complex social, economic and environmental problems facing society and how the organisation adds societal value above and beyond the core business activity.