The importance of learning from each other
Stephen Howard, chief executive of Business in the Community, explains why robust CSR award schemes are powerful mechanisms for sharing best practice
The CSR agenda faces a frustrating paradox. On the one hand, there are countless businesses that have the desire and motivation to integrate ‘responsibility’ into their core agendas, and - importantly - are doing so. On the other hand, business is constrained by the lack of consumer and investor engagement on this agenda.
The reality is that the wider public, as well as many stakeholder groups, tend to default to cynicism when business speaks of its desire and capacity to be a force for good in society. And if we’re being honest, there are plenty of ‘bad examples’ in the headlines that reinforce this viewpoint.
The impact of this cynicism on those businesses that are making a tangible, long-term positive differences to local communities, their workforce, the environment, and to society as a whole, is to make it extremely challenging to communicate their achievements.
For those of us who know that business can and does deliver positive change, we need more than ever companies that are willing to stand up and say: “Actually, we’re trying and doing a pretty good job.” Which is why robust CSR awards schemes are such powerful mechanisms for sharing best practice and for communicating achievements to internal and external audiences.
Whether it’s tackling broader society issues, such as employability, helping to foster enterprise throughout the supply chain, tackling core sustainability challenges, engaging with customers or building sustainability into product lines - there is always something new businesses can learn from each other.
The sharing of good practice is absolutely critical for all businesses to help them to develop or evolve their own CSR strategies and to continue innovating. This is the case whether a company has been integrating and delivering on responsible business for a very long time, or is just starting out.
Some might ask, why hand out awards to celebrate responsible businesses? Surely “responsible” should be the norm and something that companies should try to be anyway, without the need for further recognition? There are a few reasons. First, CSR awards give cross sector businesses an invaluable opportunity to learn from companies that they may not be coming into contact with on a day to day basis. Second, awards give companies a reason and opportunity to communicate this commitment and impact to the wider public and stakeholder audiences.
Of course it is important that companies don’t simply enter these schemes as an exercise in reputation enhancement. There are a myriad of different CSR award programmes out there and limited time and resource within a business. Companies that are truly committed to responsible business behaviour as a central part of their business model should focus their efforts on those CSR awards that are robust, have a clear scoring system, and require comprehensive submission of information.
CSR awards are not just about recognising individual company success; they are also a valuable means of best practice on how to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. And it isn’t just awards that provide vital opportunities for shared learning.
The recent UN Global Compact report into the perspectives of more than a 1000 CEOs on sustainability highlights the importance of collaborative action and cross-sector partnerships. Greater collaboration between businesses leads to greater impact, in turn, delivering greater potential to influence wider consumer and stakeholder audiences that are unaware about the positive value of responsible business.
We also know that hundreds of businesses both small and large are already collaborating to address societal and economic challenges, ranging from youth unemployment, the UK’s skills gap, a lack of diversity in boards, to reinvigorating local economies and creating a more sustainable world by engaging with their customers.
Ultimately, the biggest lesson to be learnt from award winning companies is how the very best of them are demonstrating the bolder, longer term thinking in boardrooms, with more courageous tests of new business models, shaped by both short-term economics and customer trends, and by future environmental and social trends. Companies like Jaguar Land Rover, Business in the Community’s Responsible Business of the Year 2013, demonstrate how responsible leadership across all of these areas can lead to a bold re-imagination of what traditional business practice looks like.
The real prize in celebrating and sharing best practice is for many more companies to embrace the potential value of sustainability and take brave steps to deliver this across their company’s entire reach - from the boardroom, across the business, up and down the supply chain, to all the consumers their products or services touch. Then, most crucially, it should be shared widely across all industries.
The upshot is that better insight into the leading companies will drive more collaboration, and help more businesses to successfully combine responsible and sustainable leadership with market leading business performance.