Living with the Code
by Sue Painting, Environment and Sustainable Development Manager. Severn Trent Plc.
How does a multinational business that understands the value of corporate responsibility ensure that stakeholders that come in contact with the group are aware of what it stands for?
The solution for Severn Trent has been to develop a Code of Business Principles and Conduct to provide an ethical direction to sustain the achievement of our business goals. Building from the groups vision and core values of environmental leadership, quality and service, the Code sets down ten business principles that define the relations that we strive to achieve with our key stakeholders.
For the Code to achieve its purpose it has to be clearly written, transparent, easy to understand and widely available. The Severn Trent Code is only 12 pages long, is published on both Internet (www.severntrent.com) and Intranet sites and has been translated into Flemish, French, Italian and Spanish reflecting the groups principal markets.
Of critical importance to its success the Code has to be embedded within the organisation. Following board endorsement in December 2000 the Code has been disseminated across the group through a series of ‘Living with the Code’ business strategy briefings. Employees response to the introduction has been hugely supportive providing a practical framework to judge business actions to support and enhance Severn Trent’s reputation. However, we do recognise despite the widespread acceptance of the role of the Code to properly embed it throughout the organisation is a long-term process.
Running in parallel with the roll out of the Code, new performance measures have been introduced to measure compliance whilst ensuring an effective whistleblowing mechanism is in place to allow any concerns to be raised. Interestingly, we found one of the biggest gaps in our performance indicators related to our employees which has spurred us on to improve our processes, particularly in respect of workforce diversity. The revised indicators are now reported on a regular basis to the board and are published in our annual Stewardship report.
To ensure continuing relevance the Code has to be reviewed on a regular basis. At Severn Trent we committed at the outset to review the Code and have now commenced our first formal review involving our key stakeholders. Although we do not envisage substantial changes this time around it is important the Code does continue to develop to properly reflect the changing demands of the company and wider society.
For those companies that are now just beginning to recognise the importance of corporate responsibility and sustainable development for the delivery of long term value but are uncertain where to start look no further than a code of business principles. A properly introduced code will lay the foundations on which to build future programmes and performance measures in respect of environmental and social impacts.