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Severn Trent prepares to widen its ethical agenda

December 1999

Severn Trent may soon widen the remit of its external environmental advisory panel to cover social and ethical issues.

The UK’s second largest water and waste management group is looking at expanding the five-person panel by recruiting experts on social and ethical matters to oversee a wider corporate responsibility agenda.

‘The idea would be to increase the areas of expertise to cover social responsibility, so that it becomes more of a sustainability panel rather than just an environmental panel’, said John Broughton, environmental support manager.

The external panel is chaired by Rod Aspinwall, non-executive director of the Enviros Group. Other members are Nigel Arnell, reader in physical geography at the University of Southampton, Richard Aylard, environment director at Burson Marsteller, and David Lascelles, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation.

A fifth berth is currently vacant due to the recent resignation of Janet Barber.

Severn wants to add to the panel as part of its attempt to build social and ethical considerations into company policy.

Group directors recently gave provisional approval for a new code of business conduct that broadens the company’s traditional environmental horizons to cover social and ethical issues.

The draft code will now go to the advisory panel for comments and will then be sent for consultation among stakeholder groups.

Broughton said the nature of Severn Trent’s business had meant it had concentrated on green matters, but that senior executives were keen to expand its scope to include a broader perspective.

‘We want to integrate social and ethical criteria into our mainstream policies and procedures’, he added.

The new code will touch on equal opportunities, child labour, low wages and the problems of working with oppressive regimes.

‘These are areas that our international growth expectations might lead us into, so it’s our view that we need a strong code on these issues as a basic requirement for diversifying,’ said Broughton. Severn Trent, which owns Biffa Waste Services, Severn Trent Water and Severn Trent Services, currently operates mainly in Europe and the US.

Work on the code has in part arisen from the involvement of group environment manager Jim Lamb in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s working group on corporate social responsibility, which he chairs.

‘That’s given us a lot of contact with codes on social and ethical issues,’ said Broughton.

The company’s latest stewardship report includes more data on social investment in what it says is ‘the first step in our plans to take on board the wider challenges of sustainable development, which include social issues’.

The report, the first by Severn Trent to cover the full range of sustainability issues, carries figures on investment in water services, water quality, sewer rehabilitation, numbers of jobs created, and education and training, all of which it claims qualify as social investment.




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