Tag Archives: Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Responsibility – engagement and transparency

A new year is often a time of reflection among businesses on strategic directions and corporate goals. For many firms, sustainability – environmental, social, economic – is fast moving up the agenda.

Raised regulatory standards and consumer expectations are today demanding far more from companies than an annual CSR report and a handful of associated token initiatives. The genuine integration of sustainability within an organisation may require significant organisational change and improved stakeholder engagement.

The Centre for Social Innovation – a partnership between the Universities of New South Wales, Melbourne, Western Australia and the Swinburne University of Technology – has been undertaking research on this shift taking place in the corporate sector in recent years. Researchers Gianni Zappala and Sarah Adams’ 2010 paper, The Integration of Corporate Responsibility: Evidence from leading companies in Australia & New Zealand, considers the level of integration of sustainability principles and practices achieved to date.

The paper defines Corporate Responsibility (CR) as “understanding and minimising a company’s negative impact or footprint on society and a broad range of stakeholders including the planet and environment, its employees, the communities in which it operates and the governments which make the laws.” It utilises data from the Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI) benchmarking tool developed by Business in the Community in the UK in 2002, which is applied annually in Australia and New Zealand by the St James Ethics Centre.

The reseach found that “corporate responsibility is on the whole well integrated into the way that leading companies in Australia and New Zealand are doing business.” However it suggests that firms could improve in four key areas, including ensuring improving CR training at board level and improving the extent and quality of stakeholder engagement.

The following criteria are suggested as a measure of firms that have achieved genuine integration of CR principles:

  • Adopt a holistic conception of corporate responsibility or citizenship;
  • Have board level governance systems to oversee CR policies and practices;
  • Have senior leaders that champion CR internally and externally;
  • Have a range of structures and systems to integrate CR across the business, including risk management systems, stakeholder consultation schemes, sustainability training for managers and employees, establish and monitor key performance indicators for CR, and
  • Have an open and transparent approach to CR information disclosure (eg undertake assurance of their CR reports).

There is no denying the challenge for corporates in moving to greater levels of stakeholder engagement and associated transparency. However in many cases this is a necessary first step on the road to more sustainable, productive and profitable business. Which companies will rise to the challenge in 2011?

The rise of social sustainability

Sustainable communities–it’s the catchphrase on everyone’s lips as 2010 draws to a close.  Companies are using it in their annual reports, developers are embracing it, the federal government has put out a policy paper on it and now the Green Building Council is not only developing a tool for it, but plans to include the concept in all its Green Star tools. But what does it mean? Does it herald a fundamental shift in the way we think about cities? Or is there a whiff of spin and greenwash about the whole conversation?

So writes journalist Lynne Blundell on an article in The Fifth Estate entitled People power and the rise of social sustainability.

The question is a valid one. The ongoing shift to environmental sustainability in our society has inevitably been accompanied by corporate greenwash in some sectors.  Most of us have seen a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report or a glossy advertisement that offers little more than rhetoric.  But as society’s awareness of the true meaning of sustainability and the imperatives for changing our behaviour grows, greenwash has become increasingly transparent.

Organisations in the corporate, government and non-government sectors are ever less able to rely on greenwash.  Successful organisations are increasingly recognised as those that treat sustainability as an integral aspect of their future planning. In the corporate sector particularly, businesses’ financial sustainability is increasingly dependent on demonstrating genuine CSR.

None of which is breaking news. But as Blundell rightly points out, the next wave upon us is the growing recognition of social sustainability – what it means and how we can seek to achieve it.

The Green Building Council of Australia‘s (GBCA) development of Green Star rating tools for new communities is a case in point.  The GBCA has now defined the five core principles for sustainable communities – liveability, economic prosperity, environmental responsibility, design excellence and governance.

As I member of the Liveability technical committee, which is charged with developing rating tools for liveable communities, the challenges of this shift are evident. How does one accurately define and measure aspects of our communities such as ‘liveability’ ‘social capital’ ‘affordability’?  At what stage of the development process should a community be rated?

The development of these tools are just one indicator of the changes afoot in the development industry. There is no doubt that social sustainability is a concept that all developers will very soon have to understand and apply. Exciting times lie ahead.