Business must aim ‘higher than CSR’ to unlock £100bn growth gains

Companies may have to go beyond their CSR and sustainability reporting remits to tap into the level of innovation needed to profit from delivering environmental and social value, new research has revealed.

UK businesses could potentially unlock £100bn a year in productivity gains through implementing smarter product lifecycle and engagement initiatives, but most currently lack the right tools and level of systems thinking needed to exploit such opportunity.

The joint study – Fortune Favours the Brave – from Marks & Spencer, Accenture and Business in the Community identifies five key innovations that could catalyse direct economic and commercial benefit to business and give them access to rapidly growing markets.

These innovations are shared value, resource efficiency, circular economy, new consumption models and transparency/customer engagement. However the study points out that taking advantage of this will require a major shift in business thinking.

Central to this is developing more ambitious strategies – while CSR programmes remain an essential foundation for responsible business, they also have limitations.

As CSR is frequently bolted-on to core business, it can add costs, and it also ignores whether a company’s core purpose, products and services are compatible with long term trends and social/environmental needs.

According to the report, CSR can “create tension between shareholder value creation and needs of society” while also failing to address the needs and changing demands of the mass market.

“Leaders will want to consider the balance between short term gains and long term value through understanding global trends, assessing core strengths and identifying their potential contribution to improving societal and environmental outcomes,” the study states.

It further suggests that businesses not only need to work harder to engage customers by making sustainable lifestyles more accessible, but drive greater efficiencies by building more resilient supply chains.

A number of high profile business leaders fed into the report, including Styles&Wood CEO Tony Lenehan. He said that there was a pressing need for responsible businesses to make sustainability simple for all stakeholders.

“Most customers today find it difficult to articulate what ‘good’ sustainability looks like. A consistent approach to the adoption of industry standards and a considered approach to education and training can really make the difference here,” he maintained.

Maxine Perella

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