How to benefit people, the planet, & profits

Editor of Circular, Ian Farrell, gives his insight on how organisations are being empowered with the skills they need to hard-wire corporate social responsibility into everything they do.

Traditionally, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is defined as an organisation’s obligation to achieve sustainable economic, social and environmental development on behalf of its stakeholders – i.e. staff, investors and the wider community.

For many organisations, however, CSR has evolved into something larger. It’s become a way of thinking; something that’s woven into the very fabric of their business and informs every decision that’s made.

At CIWM, we have found a natural affinity with CSR. It aligns directly with our commitment to move the world beyond waste and now drives our best-practice approach to staffing, resource, energy and decarbonisation. It’s even something for which we were recognised with Gold CSR Accreditation in 2021, and something we have found to be good for business too.

As organisations that, ultimately, serve society, waste and resource entities are at a natural advantage when it comes to CSR. One big player that has put such policies and practices at its heart is Suez Recycling and Waste UK, although the firm’s sustainability and social value lead, Sarah Ottaway, says it now uses different terminology.

Waste and resource entities are at a natural advantage when it comes to CSR.

“We talk about our triple bottom line – that’s balancing people, planet and profit,” she says. “It’s something we have developed at board level and which has been embedded across the whole business over the past 18 months.

“We built on what was already there and took it to another level, so it becomes part of what we do every day. It’s in our DNA, rather than being responded to individually at a site or regional level.”

Adam Read, Suez’s head of external affairs, agrees. “It’s not a wrap-around. It’s not something we do with a tick box. Op com directors make decisions on people, planet, profit. Local site managers make decisions on people, planet, profit.

“Regional managers make decisions on people, planet, profit,’ he enthuses. ‘If you can’t demonstrate that something you’re doing has a community benefit, or has environmental or social wellness at its heart, it’s not going to happen, even if it is profitable.”

It’s stirring stuff and goes down well with Suez’s clients. “Our municipal customers don’t talk about CSR. They use different language: social value, community benefit, environmental performance, as well as profit,” Read says.

For the smaller waste management business, maybe family-owned with 25-50 employees, this can all sound a bit daunting, but Ottaway says there are lots of ways to get started and many sources of inspiration.

You need to get collecting data so you can measure whether what you are doing is making a difference.

“Look at your supply chain,” she advises. “Where are you buying things from? How local are they? Where do your staff travel in from, and how? What’s your bottom line in terms of carbon footprint? These are all things you can measure and improve on quite quickly. Family businesses tend to be very good at this because they are incredibly community-focused.”

Read adds that establishing a baseline is also important. “If you want a certificate, or a plaque on your door, you need to get collecting data so you can measure whether what you are doing is making a difference,” he says. “You know whether going with an all-electric vehicle fleet is going to make a big or small difference.”

Where to look for inspiration

Looking at how businesses such as Suez have taken CSR and run with it can be inspiring and give you plenty of ideas on how to do the same. Ottaway and Read also advise looking at what is already happening in your organisation to uncover a potential platform to build on.

“Find out what’s being done and how you can improve. Where are the gaps?” Ottaway says. “There are so many resources out there – the SME climate hub, CIWM, etc. There is a lot of support.”

Find out what’s being done and how you can improve. Where are the gaps?

In fact, CIWM doesn’t just offer advice, but it also offers training, with a new course, Corporate social responsibility: a practical introduction to strategy development and implementation. It has six modules spread across two days, with self-study in between, and is designed to help organisations of all sizes build their own effective CSR strategies.

The course also teaches how to demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to people, planet and profit – supporting tender applications and ethical, sustainable business growth.

In addition, it looks at how CSR is positioned in the local, national and international contexts of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (essential reading for anyone concerned about sustainability), as well as articulating the impact of CSR on supply and value chains.

The course is a great way to learn how to propel your business to new heights, and do some good for wider society and the planet while you’re at it.

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