An ABC of Corporate Good

Do you like quizzes? The sort you find in magazines in the dentist’s waiting room? Here’s a simple one. There’s only one question: how responsible and sustainable is your company? If you think your company is a force for good in the world, answer A, B or C from the list below.

Answer A if you’re ‘Acting Good’. 

If you’re acting good, you tick a few boxes representing the easy wins. You indulge your staff with a day or two ‘CSR’ time each year where… well, what does ‘CSR’ stand for, anyway? We know it when we see it. Such days are good for team building, the staff have a good time and we all end up in the pub after the session. And some charity benefits from getting money tossed their way or from having their walls painted, a sponsored walk or a cake bake or… you know the scene. What’s not to like?

If the neighbours complain about the vehicles using your site at all hours you will never ignore them. No, you will meet with them – eventually – and explain why things have to be the way they are, so hopefully they will understand better. You like to keep your bills down so this idea of using less electricity is a good one – the office thermostat has been turned down a bit (except in the directors’ suite, of course). And you agree with using sustainable raw materials because sustainable means… ‘always there when you need it’, doesn’t it?

Responsible supply chain? That’s Phil, he’s responsible for our supply chain. Guaranteed to get the cheapest supplies going.

Answer B if you’re ‘Being Good’.

You’ve cut down on your energy usage and found that your company has become more efficient. You’re seriously looking at switching to a ‘green’ energy provider (even though they’re a little bit more expensive) because it’s one way to be seen to help the environment. You’ve reduced your waste quite a bit and you’re proud that your company’s emissions into the air and/or water around you are well within proscribed limits. 

Within the canteen you’ve told kitchen staff to use fair trade products wherever they can, because that’s… only fair, and (despite objections from the procurement department) you’ve insisted that raw materials should be from certified sustainable sources. You read an article recently about the Modern Slavery Act – great to see UK leading the world on this – but you don’t think it applies to your company. 

As for corporate social responsibility, CSR, every year you let the staff decide which charity to support with their fundraising and you encourage everyone to take part. Some do. You’re aware that a few staff are school governors, charity trustees, special constables, union representatives; and you allow them a little bit of company time to carry out those voluntary roles. 

Perhaps not union representatives. 

Answer C if you’re ‘Creating Good’.

A company is as much a part of its local community as any other institution. As a good neighbour, where your company can help out, it does – using employees’ concerns as ‘ears to the ground’. You have a strategic, long term partnership with at least one community organisation, perhaps a hospital, charity, school or old people’s home, and you regularly donate staff time and skills to them, strategically, in a variety of ways. This isn’t ‘CSR’, it’s not a superficial, optional, short term thing; it’s a relationship, a statement of what your company is. Such an expression of mission and purpose helps engage and motivate staff – leading to reduced time off and improved productivity.

You’ve pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and made a start; you welcome the improvements to practices (and the bottom line) that this new way of thinking, which includes generating some of your own energy on site, has brought. A policy of zero waste to landfill has been found to work.

Operating through agencies and others you’ve found it relatively easy to ensure that slavery, corruption, human rights abuse and unsustainable environmental practices can be removed from your supply chain, though you need to be constantly vigilant. Within your company there are no artificial barriers to recruitment, promotion or success based on race, gender, lifestyle or background and you pay at least the Living Wage, not just the legal minimum. You regard employees as partners, though not necessarily in the John Lewis meaning of the word. Your company not only feels a better place because of that, but diverse and inclusive ways of thinking certainly contribute to its success.

How did you score?

If you’re most like an ‘A’ company, you Act Good because you perceive that your ‘licence to operate’ requires a minimum level of responsibility. But you’re not sustainable and you’re missing out on many of the choices that will make you successful – over the long term.

If your company is a ‘B’, one that likes to appear to Be Good, then you’ve made some progress. Why not set your sights higher?

‘C’ companies actually Create Good: they don’t count success just in terms of profit, sales or share price and they believe that an organisation built on people has responsibilities to all those on whom they impact. Whilst the impression they make on the market place may still be a potent driver of business, the impact they have on community, atmosphere and planet should either be positive or as fleeting and small as possible.

Of course, you may not have time for this sort of thing; perhaps even ‘A’ is overstating your degree of engagement. If so then, for now, go back to your abuse of labour rights leading to poverty pay, your cynicism towards customers and disrespect for our shared environment. Maximise your profits and shareholder dividends at the expense of all else if you think that’s the way to paradise; but just wait for regulations, public opinion and consumer pressure to catch up with you. 

You’ll soon learn your ABC.