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CSR is about ‘having mechanisms to fix market inequalities or injustices’

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On April 15, an event in London will question whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) has reached its sell-by date.

Hosted and produced by Responsible 100, Be Inspired Films and Kyocera Document Solutions, the interactive panel discussion forms part of Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Week 2013.

In the run-up to April 15, we’ll be hearing from all the panellists set to speak at the event, and have already heard from Kyocera’s Tracey Rawling Church, Matter&Co’s Tim West and Be Inspired Film’s Ravinol Chambers.

Blue & Green Tomorrow posed the same set of questions to Graham Precey, head of CSR at Legal & General Group – one of the UK’s leading financial services firms.

What does ‘corporate social responsibility’ mean to you?

Lawyers might see companies as bundles of contracts; accountants as a collection of cash flows, but to me companies are also big groups of people held together with an inspiring common purpose.

Those people must act in a way that that can show to the outside world that they are economically valuable, socially useful and environmentally efficient. That’s responsibility in action.

Can you explain the difference, if any, between responsible business and corporate social responsibility?

I prefer to talk about ‘conscious business’ or the ‘responsibility of business’. Whatever you call it, it’s fundamentally about companies having mechanisms to fix the inequalities or injustices that are material to their business or marketplace that the outside world cares about too.

How widespread/mainstream is corporate social responsibility, in the sense you describe, and do you have any best-in-class examples?

The recession has weeded out those companies who are doing CSR for publicity and short-term gains. To use an old adage, “When the tide goes out you can see who is wearing swimming trunks“.

Some of the real social and economic inequalities that need corporate attention and problem solving are long-term and cannot be solved by one sector alone. Important issues such as dignity in later life, housing and health equality are big, systemic, long-term issues that no one organisation alone can solve.

It always worries me when you read a company’s sustainability report which states a problem in the same year that it solves it!

It is the quieter companies who simply get on with it, who tend to dig in and understand what’s behind the issues that matter. They are campaigners and have learnt from the good work that NGOs have done. Companies increasingly need to be campaigners for social and economic change.

How can you find a company like this? Look for those companies who are proud of the depth and diversity of their research and development approach and have a ‘house view’ of the long-term macro trends. It is those companies who can spot the new opportunities and get into problem solving mode quicker.

Without stealing the event’s thunder, has ‘corporate social responsibility passed its sell-by date? And why do you say that?

A sell-by date to me means that it’s over and the product is unfit for human consumption. I’m not sure that is where we are with CSR.

What we are seeing is that the expectation of society for companies to be a force for good is increasing. The latest SIGWATCH report for financial services shows that there are 49 issues that the outside world expects that sector to be responsible for solving and stewarding, from executive pay to ATM cash machine charges. Companies must work through all of this with their strategy and work out what’s material to their business.

This is often challenging as we are seeing a combination of social media and people power to create the world of the ‘non-stakeholder’. Opinions of poor corporate behaviour can gain ground quickly and impact the bottom line of a business very quickly and then trust is lost from people that do not own a share or product in your business.

At the same time companies have a huge wealth of experience and scale to bring to bear on the big social and economic issues. They must see themselves as having an important role in providing solutions to the big issues that matter.

What will corporate social responsibility look like in 10 years from now?

Good question. There are a number of things that I think will be in place for companies in the future.

We are just doing a key piece of research with Business in the Community, looking at how publicly quoted companies interact with shareholders. Some interesting points have come up.

One major finding is that there is far too much unconscious capital available to companies to fund their activities, i.e. investors who don’t care where their money is going or how it is being used. And too few companies who are able to tell a long-term story of how they are looking to run their business with consciousness.

There is a tipping point not far in the future at which more conscious capital will fund conscious businesses and this will be business as usual. Organisations like Triodos Bank have shown that transparency on money in and money out of the organisation has led to growth and an increase in customers. There is a lot to learn for all of us.

I also think that businesses will continue to be more open to solve society’s issues more collaboratively with the third sector and public sectors through their products and solutions. We will see blended solutions using the best capabilities from each sector. It’s almost as if CSR becomes research and development with consciousness!

And finally, companies must be prepared to be even more transparent on their operations. This means that if there are questions on your business on the big issues such as taxation, executive pay, environmental issues and social inclusion, you should be prepared to answer whether it is material or immaterial to your business. This is why the Responsible 100 is different.

See here for more information on the CSR event.

Further reading:

‘We need to go deeper with corporate social responsibility’

Some corporate social responsibility has ‘gone stale’

‘Corporate social responsibility is an attitude of mind’

Has CSR reached its sell-by date? Part 1

Has CSR reached its sell-by date? Part 2

Responsible investment terms: what is CSR?

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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