‘Nice to Have’ versus ‘Must Have’
David Picton, chief sustainability officer, Carillion explains why now, more than ever, sustainability is not a nice-to-have but a 'must have'
Sustainability is critical for long-term business success. And that critical nature extends to making sustainability a strong, balanced approach – one that I find myself increasingly summarising as the three CBs: changing behaviours, commercial benefit and challenging balance.
In order for sustainability initiatives to take root and make a tangible, long-term impact on both business and the community, they have to change behaviours. In the business sense, this begins internally, encouraging best practice, responsibility and personal commitments amongst employees – from simple activities such as cycling to work, to operational innovations like new recycling and reuse projects and onwards to taking a personal interest in volunteering for example.
Through wider initiatives such as the Supply Chain Sustainability School we can collaborate with our industry partners, clients and suppliers to develop skills and actions, which will not only make them more profitable businesses, but more responsible too.
As behaviours change within the business and within the wider industry, the private sector can start to shape more positive outcomes with and for communities. Carillion actively supports and encourage its employees to volunteer with charities such as Barnardo’s and create long-term relationships with community projects such as our work with local councils, schools and employee-led mentoring and careers sessions.
Positive change is best achieved by acting early and through regular commitment. If we can show people that opportunities are available – and that they can make a difference – we can begin to build communities where positive relationships between business and the public contribute to more sustainable futures.
Sometimes profit can be wrapped up in negative connotations, but that can miss the point that businesses which are in profit are also in a great position to add real value to communities, to the environment, to their employees, to local companies and to shareholders – some of whom will include pension funds looking for good investment returns.
So a business strategy encompassing effective sustainability policies not only safeguards and provides future employment, but also provides opportunities for smaller companies to work with larger business. Building a successful business and making a bigger profit contribution through sustainable actions helps to build a responsible business. Even small savings made by fuel efficiency and recycling contribute to the overall profitability of a company
At Carillion we took the step a few years ago to include the impact of our sustainability strategy in our financial reports. Built up and tracked through the year, the collected savings and profit contributions from projects across our UK and international operations really add up. Small savings, even shaving a few thousand pounds off waste management bills through recycling, join bigger savings from fuel reduction and careful travel management – and in 2013 that added £22.6 million pounds to profit. A streamlined, responsible, ethical business can (and should) also be a profitable one – for the long term.
To achieve lasting change – for itself and for organisations and communities – a truly sustainable business must be ambitious, challenging pre-conceptions and entrenched beliefs. In sustainability terms, that also needs to be balanced – across economic, social and environmental responsibilities. Traditionally ‘green’ or environmental considerations remain high on the sustainability agenda, but social responsibility creates long-term legacies in the communities where we work and live.
Business should be ambitious, setting challenging goals and inspiring others to join them, such as our goal to establish Community Needs Plans across all of Carillion’s contracts, projects and regional teams. Our commitment to providing 5000 apprenticeship training places over the next 5 years, goes hand in glove with our wider aims to address skills shortages wherever we can, and to offer work opportunities for the long-term unemployed, for ex-offenders and for others most in need of support to create a sustainable career.
An authentic approach to sustainability which strives for improvement makes simple business sense, but an ambitious sustainability strategy which takes on the Three CBs can make businesses successful.
As part of our vision at Carillion, we’re currently sponsoring the National CSR Awards which will give businesses the chance to gain recognition for their initiatives and achievements in the sustainability sphere. Beyond that, we’ll be working hard to seek a challenging balance and change behaviours for commercial benefit. It’s not easy, by any measure, but it’s a ‘must have’ as far we’re concerned.