In January 2012 BMS attended an IEMA North East Region CPD event on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility in industry.  The event opened with a talk by Michelle Campbell-Robson from the Environmental Academy with an introduction to CR, discussing the benefits and trends. She focussed on the positive feedback loops that Traidcraft have developed in tea supply chains by paying a fair price, building relationships, and ultimately improving product quality, and customer satisfaction. Michelle illustrated how the number of organisations reporting on CR has increased dramatically since the 1990s and how the content of those reports has also changed to include greater emphasis on social and sustainability issues.

The next speaker, Paul Burns from Gentoo opened memorably saying “We don’t do CR because we don’t do anything else”. He spoke about local challenges in Sunderland where students sometimes blame the lack of employment opportunities on events like the closure of the shipyards, which can’t be right as they closed long before the students were born, and how Gentoo are working to raise aspirations, create employment opportunities and improve skills in the area. On energy efficiency Gentoo have a pioneering project to retrofit 2000 homes to reduce carbon emissions, and have built houses to meet the PassivHaus standard in Houghton-le-Spring. Paul shed light on some of the challenges faced in realising carbon savings and the need to educate residents on how to operate the unfamiliar technology installed. As well as benefitting from a more efficient house, some tenants in fuel poverty will understandably choose to improve their household comfort and heat the whole house rather than one room.

Stephen Weldon from Greggs followed and underlined the local nature of the Greggs business and the emphasis that has always been placed on long-term staff relationships and giving back to local communities through schemes such as hardship funds, breakfast clubs, and the Greggs Foundation. He quoted Ian Gregg OBE “As the business grows successfully it has a disproportionate responsibility to help those who are most disadvantaged within the community”. Greggs considers food and nutrition as a fundamental of their CR strategy, having removed all artificial colours from their products, they are also gradually reducing salt levels. Greggs are covered by the Climate Change Agreement and have targets to reduce energy consumption fitting over 90% of shops with half hourly metering. Regarding suppliers and ethical sourcing Stephen said that Greggs have good long term relationships with suppliers and also aim to source locally.

The ethos within Northumbria Water is that “we are serving ourselves” as staff, and their families, live in the area and depend upon the water services provided. Louise Hunter, head of Corporate Responsibility, said that “everything we do for CR has real business benefits” such as employee wellbeing programmes, and they have achieved Platinum Plus status in the BitC CR Index. Louise illustrated how sustainability thinking can align with business benefits by explaining they have moved from the pellatisation of sewage sludge to treatment by advanced anaerobic digestion (AD) at Bran Sands, which has reduced their carbon footprint on the waste water treatment side of the business considerably. The renewable energy generated from the AD process produces 60% of the power for the treatment plant. The remaining material is turned into fertilizer.  During her talk, Louise responded to an interesting question about how to communicate the water reduction message in the North East where we are fortunate to have plenty of water, by saying she converts water consumption into carbon emissions so it can be accounted for in that way and there is a tool on their website to do this. Water is heavy and movement and treatment requires a lot of energy.

The final presentation was from Kye Gbangbola from Total Eco Management Ltd who gave an introduction to the GRI reporting framework for sustainability reporting. He said that those organisations measuring and reporting sustainability issues “fly with the radar on and keep good company, but those who fly with the radar off will be increasingly challenged by stakeholders”. GRI metrics are common and comparable allowing organisations to benchmark their performance with others, and bring business benefits including a lower cost of borrowing. Kye explained how indicators could be selected from the standard GRI list appropriate to different industry sectors and outlined a typical process to assist an organisation gather and report on such data.

One of the repeat themes from this event was that the expression of Corporate Responsibility in different organisations may have a very different flavour depending upon specific issues such as business sector, location, and stakeholders. Some businesses may focus more on community and others on the environment, but all hopefully work towards the long term sustainability of both the organisation and the planet.

By Marek Bidwell