An exciting decade ahead for dynamic socially responsible businesses
As momentum picks up to initiate change and reduce carbon footprints over the coming decades, increasingly it’s socially-conscious, progressive businesses that are driving change, developing innovative solutions and processes to tackle the big issues, alongside more socially engaged governments.
The twentieth century was dominated by governments. Granted, thousands of pioneering businesses made an immense social contribution – but all around the world, it was states that were making the big decisions, and tackling the most pressing challenges of the time, all be it at a slower rate than many would like to see.
Now, that’s changing fast – and increasingly, it’s progressive businesses who are picking up the slack, in conjunction with new socially and environmentally focused government targets and legislation.
What is Corporate Social Responsibility?
CSR is all about recognising and addressing the needs of customers and other groups affected by the activities of an organisation. In construction, this means committing to integrate socially responsible values into operations in a way that “fulfils and exceeds current legal and commercial expectations. such as employees, local communities and regulators”.
Examples of core social responsibility values are:
Transparency: being open to all stakeholders about the interests and processes of an organisation.
Fairness: treating all stakeholders in a reasonable and equal way. Inclusiveness: involving all groups who are affected by the company and its activities in relevant decision making processes.
Responsiveness: responding to any concerns of stakeholders in a swift and effective manner. Integrity: being honest and sticking to agreed terms and principles.
Diversity: valuing and promoting diversity in terms of gender, culture, and race. Being willing to apply different perspectives and new approaches in day to day management.
Accountability: being completely responsible for what an organisation does and being able to trace back its activities and related impacts.
Leading the way on sustainability
On climate change in particular, the onus is now on business to drive sustainability forward.
That’s obviously a major challenge. Governments have huge power, and a top-down overview of entire industries. As individual businesses, we can only really focus on changing our own behaviour, and encouraging others to follow suit.
But in construction, we’re at an extremely promising moment in our history. Sustainable technology is progressing in leaps and bounds, and innovations across the construction sector are helping us cut carbon footprints by reducing waste materials and maximising energy efficiency.
There’s an increasing emphasis on smarter working practices – like modular construction, or MMC, for example.
Individual components, or ‘modules’ of a building are manufactured offsite, then transported to site to be assembled. The modules can be easily combined to create a finished building, like a high-tech Lego set.
As a result, modular building projects can be completed 30-50% quicker than those that use more traditional methods, and modules can be worked on indoors in all weathers.
That means less waste, lower energy usage, lower transportation costs, and lower emissions from vehicles, too.
One of the most valuable contributions a construction business can make, though, is to reduce the single-use plastic in their supply chain – critically important, given the sector accounts for 23% of the UK’s plastic use.
That’s a tough ask. The reason plastic is so widely used is because it’s extremely useful – it’s flexible, cheap, lightweight and water-resistant.
But even something as small as encouraging employees to use reusable drinking cups rather than plastic bottles is a start – and at the other end of the spectrum, some exciting new innovations are giving us a glimpse of what the future could look like.
Alternative materials are being developed, such as mushrooms to create biodegradable plastic alternatives, for example – and in a few years’ time, phasing out plastic entirely might become a much more realistic prospect.
Waste reduction isn’t something that should stop in the factory, the building yard, or on-site, though – thorough workplace assessments can ensure that the waste resulting from your everyday office operations is cut back to a bare minimum too.
Helping the environment AND the community
But CSR doesn’t have to just be a dry, logistical process, either.
One sure-fire way to have a positive impact both environmentally and in the community is by encouraging hands-on employee-led schemes – initiatives like tree-planting, rewilding, beekeeping and others.
They’re fun, and they get staff engaged and thinking about sustainability in a wider context, too.
And for an even more rewarding experience for employees, and even greater positive social impact, you can carry out these in conjunction with schools.
CSR required strong, principled leadership
But these developments don’t occur on their own. It takes strong, principled leadership to do the right thing when it’s the more difficult option – and an approach that goes against the short-term inclinations of many businesses.
Everyone from the big house builders and the public sector right down to homeowners are now demanding green products and services – and that’s only going to increase as the negative impacts of climate change become more and more apparent.
In other words, if you stick with ‘business as usual’, you’re very quickly going to be left behind.
What are the benefits for socially responsible companies?
If you have the leadership and are willing to take action, the benefits aren’t just environmental.
A ‘for-more-than-profit’ ethos makes you a more rewarding, satisfying and meaningful place to work – something that’s bound to translate into happier, more highly motivated employee and higher rates of staff retention.
And more broadly, people like dealing with decent people. Ethical, progressive companies do better, because people want to support and do business with them.
If it’s a straight choice between two equally skilled and similarly priced suppliers, they’re likely to choose the business that cares for its clients, staff, local community and the environment.
Socially responsible practices can add value to companies by helping to:
Secure a strategic advantage – for example securing the ‘goodwill’ of a local community, as a result of good stakeholder dialogue, can often make obtaining planning permission a lot easier.
Improve reputation – developing a brand amongst customers and other stakeholders for ‘doing good business’ in a responsible manner
Reduce costs – more productivity due to higher staff morale or no lengthy delays due to conflicts with local community groups, for example.
Minimise and manage business risks – evidence suggests that managing a company or project in a socially responsible manner is an effective way of minimising risks relating to corporate image or project programme.
Practical ways construction companies can incorporate CSR
- Well-designed buildings which improve quality of life and wellbeing.
- Supporting education programmes.
- Supporting local community groups.
- Giving time or other resources for charitable activities.
- Good design and construction of community spaces, such as lighting, cycle paths, landscape, and so on.
- Responsible purchasing.
- Minimising waste.
- Energy efficiency initiatives.
- Internships and work experience programmes.
- Supporting apprenticeships.
- Minimising payment delays to subcontractors in the supply chain.
- Improved hiring practices.
- Career management, mentoring and training programmes.
CSR is crucial in evolving how the construction industry operates
In the present economic climate, construction companies are searching for new competitive advantage to stay ahead of the game. Increasingly, organisations are taking a responsible attitude, going beyond the minimum legal requirements, and following CSR principles that apply whatever the size of the business.
Ultimately, it’s not especially expensive or complicated to become more socially responsible. Many small to medium-sized businesses could easily do it – and if more did, the positive impact would be immense.