Uncertain times? We’re all in them together

We are undoubtedly living with uncertainty, with major political, social and economic changes underway across the UK and beyond. The world's delicate ecological balance is also never far from public and commercial minds - a stark reminder coming from climate scientists in the past week that we're already perilously close to global warming's 1.5C degree limit.

Uncertain times? We’re all in them together

However, one of the offshoots of such uncertainty can actually be the clarity it offers organisations on the things that really matter. Unless we focus – fast – on those priorities when shaping corporate responsibility, any good work of the past can be rapidly undone by future ambiguity. Efforts across the sustainability agenda should be dialling up rather than slipping to the back of the queue.

The phrase Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can evoke groans, but our good friend Dame Julia Cleverdon regularly explains that it’s actually Common Sense Really.  Increasingly savvy stakeholders – clients, partners, consumers and employees – rightly demand a high level of responsibility from businesses, and CSR has come a long way from being simply ‘nice-to-have’.  To be fair, the most forward-thinking, pragmatic businesses also recognise that it’s not an ‘inconvenience-to-do’ and can actually be a commercial competitive advantage if designed to be relevant and impactful.  The clear and present business case for balanced sustainability makes it absolutely critical for long-term business success – a catalyst for connecting stakeholders and driving profit.

Viewing sustainability from an ecological perspective is arguably one of the most visible forms of responsible business for all people across the value chain – so there is no excuse for organisations retreating from the environmental part of the CSR agenda.  However, community engagement and economic responsibility have to be right up alongside the ‘green’ commitments for it all to work well.

Sustainable business practices are dynamic and can be complex, so this cannot be a solo effort. Cross-sector, inter-industry and community collaborations are essential for sustainability to be mutually beneficial – something I referenced in my recent blog on Partnerships of Equals, as revealed in Carillion’s six-month study into UK business-community relationships.

For me, the ‘Three CBs’ model demonstrates an integrated approach to impactful sustainability.  The key pillars of Changing Behaviours, Commercial Benefit and Challenging Balance we follow at Carillion provide this basic roadmap to establish and encourage collaboration for responsible businesses.

Firstly, by definition, a more sustainable future needs some kind of change, regardless of scale. For us, this starts with collaboration from within – encouraging new behaviours to instil responsible thinking and best practice from our colleagues through to our supply chain.  Carillion is a key funding partner of the Supply Chain Sustainability School, an entirely voluntary initiative providing free online training for suppliers.  Thousands of suppliers are now members, actively improving their skills, efficiency and sustainability credentials.  As a Board Director, I chaired last year’s expansion into the Facilities Management and Services sector to complete the School’s built environment reach and impact.

Second, commercial organisations shouldn’t be afraid to talk in terms of the commercial benefit from integrating effective sustainability into business strategy.  Profitable, collaborative businesses are in a great position to add real value to communities, the environment, their employees, local companies and to their shareholders.  This drives tangible commercial advantage back into the business, directly or indirectly, through recruitment, talent retention or even simply a consumer ‘brand halo’ effect.  The independently-verified £33.8m profit contribution that sustainable actions and behaviours made to Carillion’s 2015 profit is covered in our latest Sustainability Report – showing that small savings in areas such as waste management and fuel reduction can add up to a very big difference.  

Third, a Challenging Balance is about being truly ambitious in targeting lasting change and inspiring others to collaborate in addressing shared issues, such as the current industry skills-shortage. At Carillion we are supporting sustainable careers, creating opportunities for all and helping to future-proof the sectors where we operate.  Working closely with partners, we support vulnerable groups such as the long-term unemployed and ex-offenders, and in 2015 helped our 400th person into employment through Business in the Community’s Ready for Work national employment programme.

However you view CSR and sustainability, it usually comes back to teamwork.  People and extended networks are the first connection for business to their wider community, so collaboration at scale is key for the private sector to shape more positive outcomes with, and for, those communities. The Three CBs might be one simple checklist for supporting an authentic approach to sustainability which strives for improvement whilst making good business sense.

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