The beautiful game (of CSR)

I spent the other night at Aston Villa Football Club. Not for a football match, but something much more entertaining: a CSR best practice showcase.


However, I can’t help likening it to a couple of FA Cup matches. The first between the Premier League football club and luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). The second: Golbal German Bank v Conference League utilities SME.

JLR didn’t pull too many surprises – they’ve got CSR winning form. But I was surprised to learn that they’d nearly gone bust about 4-5 years ago before climbing up the CR league tables of recent years.  A bit like the resurgence of once great British teams, like Man City, it’s all thanks to new overseas’ owners recognising the existing talent that just need a cash injection and some strategic direction.

In my imaginary match, I pitted JLR against Villa, who put in a performance that opened my eyes. The Premier League doesn’t have the best corporate reputation, but I was really impressed with Villa’s CSR strategy and wide programme of initiatives that are clearly aligned with the business and use the power of the brand (or crest as they call it) to tackle (sorry!) important social challenges – from tickets for schools to health, obesity, cohesion, inclusion and social enterprise. It was a very satisfying 3-3 draw between AVFC and JLR, effortlessly showcasing best practice CSR win-win.

But what of the banking Bundesliga giants versus the lower league Gliders? For me, it was a classic FA Cup clash, where the rich boys turned up at the small club’s home ground only to find themselves slipping and sliding in the mud.

Deutsche Bank has policies, people and spending power a plenty. And a very clear goal – to mend banking’s ‘broken contract’ with society. But the tactics they displayed kept getting them caught offside. They scored a spectacular own goal when talking about raising £3/4 million for charity in just one day. How? By members of their team donating a single day’s salary. It’s not what the public meant when we demanded bankers demonstrate better pay restraint!

I also smiled at Aston Business School’s injury time ‘nutmeg’ over their charity of the year beauty contest voting. DB would win far more credibility if they’d follow in Villa’s boots and support causes that had a meaningful connection with their brand or industry.

The subsequent news that DB have made a loss because of fines for misconduct (eg Libor) makes their overly generous corporate giving to charity feel even more like greenwashing. 

For me, the heroes of the night were Glide – a utilities company that I’d never come across before, but one with a distinct difference. Its moral compass. This quickly-growing and enterprising SME offers a simple practical billing solution for people in shared households. They don’t have a CSR policy (yet) but they ooze the grit, determination and belief of a smaller football club that invests in young people, both on and off their pitch.

As an ethical micro-enterprise owner, it was brilliant to see a fellow SME leader on such an esteemed panel and satisfying to watch their victory over the big money. But one match doesn’t equal a championship and there’s a long way to Glide to go. JLR took 15 years to get to an award-winning CSR premier position. I look forward to seeing Glide – and other ethical SMEs – edging up the divisions by thinking more strategically about their long-term CSR goals, making the right moves, and sharing more success stories to increase their fan base. Good luck, guys!

Our sustainability consultancy Ideal Worldsmiths has its sights set on Wembley, as well. We’re a long way off, but we’re beginning to get our new CSR and sustainability policy in shape. We hope you’ll follow or join us on our journey.    

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