The world of business is littered with three-letter acronyms. Are you an SME? What’s your USP? What’s the CBI or the FSB or the IOD saying today? But one abbreviation more than any other has struck fear into the hearts of employers and employees alike – CSR. Corporate social responsibility used to be seen by some as code for a day to get out of the office – members of staff would don their wellies and waterproofs for a day during which they’d be dispatched to the countryside to help plant trees, allowing the CSR officer to tick another box.
Now, all that has changed: CSR is no longer about holding a bake sale to raise money for a children’s charity or sponsoring a local youth football team’s away strip.
Instead, companies are recognising that being a responsible business is not only good for helping their communities but is also good for growing their bottom line.
“This is not the flim-flam and the CSR of old, but is actually rooted in the imperatives of the business,” explains Mark Bevan, deputy managing director at Business in the Community (BITC) Scotland.
“What we used to have in the past was a philanthropic approach to CSR. That’s changed over time because shareholders have focused businesses more on delivering profit.
“There were concerns this focus on profit could erode the opportunity for businesses to do good whilst they’re doing their day job.
“But profit is essential to deliver responsible behaviour and therefore we shouldn’t be worried about that.
“What we don’t want is businesses to be simply focusing on using their profits to deliver good, but instead to think about how they earn their profits while doing good.”
From its conversations with companies, BITC Scotland recognised the same subjects came up again and again when firms began discussing the ways in which they were trying to be responsible businesses.
“Those topics always broke down into the same five segments – education, employees, employment, enterprise and environment,” says Bevan.
This quintet of themes has become the “five pillars of responsible business”. Each of the pillars sheds a different light on the activities that businesses are undertaking to boost not just themselves but also wider society.
Top of the list is education, with companies getting involved at all levels, from primary and secondary schools through to colleges and universities.
Firms aren’t just supporting traditional activities such as Young Enterprise Scotland; they’re engaging with educational institutions across the whole of the curriculum.
“Education is a good example of where there’s a solid business reason for getting involved, as well as a broader societal benefit,” Bevan points out.
“Businesses have an active interest in education because they want to ensure they get the best skilled workforce for the future.
“Businesses want to get people with the skills and talents that they need and, as a society, we want our young people to be educated in the best way they can be so they can have the best start for a positive future and socio-economic prosperity. It’s about growing the whole of the cake instead of just growing the size of your slice.”
The “employees” and “employment” pillars are very similar – Bevan explains that “employees” focuses on the potential employee and what can be done to help them.
“We know that, in Scotland, between now and 2040, we have a predicted 1 per cent increase in the size of the labour market – so practically no increase at all,” he says.
“At the same time, we have a significant number of people leaving the labour market through age.
“But we still hope the economy will grow – so there aren’t going to be enough people to fill the jobs that will be created in Scotland, even under the worst predictions for economic growth.
“So, every possible person who could potentially contribute to the economy needs to be gainfully employed.”
On the “employment” side, BITC Scotland has worked on programmes that cover social mobility and helping groups such as military veterans find work.
“We can look at less traditional routes for recruitment, for example, we’ve been working on recruiting directly from prisons,” adds Bevan.
“We ran a campaign called ‘ban the box’, which meant that job application forms were blind to criminal convictions during the first sift, looking more at the assets and abilities of individuals.
“We’ve done work around diversity in the workplace because businesses know that they have the best chance of selling their goods and services if their workforce is fully reflective of the diversity of their customer base.”
Support for small businesses and entrepreneurs is also high on the agenda, especially when it comes to recognising the connection between companies of all shapes and sizes.
“As we have seen in Scotland, the big increase in employment has been through small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – they make up the biggest section of growth in Scotland’s economy and employment,” Bevan says.
“We’ve been encouraging big businesses to support SMEs so that they have diversity in their supply chains.”
Bevan says that businesses have moved away from simply donating money to charities that will care for the environment and have instead started to look at how they manage the world’s resources so that they will go further.
“Our Business Emergency Resilience Group (BERG) brings together large businesses to support small businesses to prepare for, respond to and recover from major events, like natural disasters,” he adds.
“We undertook a lot of work in both the North-east of Scotland and down in the Borders last winter.
“Large businesses are interested in the security of their supply chain – Sainsbury’s, for example, might have a contract with a facilities management company that is a global business but, chances are, it’s John from the local village who will actually be sent out to fix a broken freezer. “So, you need to make sure John can continue to work even in big floods, otherwise if your freezer goes down then you’re in big trouble.”
Mark Bevan highlights some great examples of the five pillars being put into practice:
Employment: Social Bite
This social enterprise uses all its profits to support social causes, its key focus being homelessness. It runs an academy that supports homeless people into employment, with the goal of having ten successful completions each year. Around 25 per cent of the staff in Social Bite’s sandwich shops and restaurant were formerly homeless.
Employees: Standard Life
Standard Life has a highly-developed, integrated approach to diversity and employee wellbeing. It is a living wage employer and has taken proactive steps over the past several years to increase diversity in its workforce, including a targeted new talent pipeline for school leavers and young people.
Education: Barclays’ LifeSkills
Barclays has developed LifeSkills, a substantial programme to support young people to develop the tools they need to succeed. From digital learning to classroom exercises to work experience, this programme operates throughout the UK. BITC Scotland has recently been awarded the contract to deliver LifeSkills north of the Border.
This charity works to inspire and enable action to reduce carbon, energy and waste. It works with volunteers to support individuals, businesses and local government and has received numerous awards for its waste management and recycling activities and energy efficiency initiatives.
Enterprise: Enterprise workshops
BITC Scotland has developed an innovative workshop that allows businesses of all sizes and sectors to work with children and young people to give them the skills needed to develop, run and work in a business. This workshop is run dozens of times each year by employee volunteers.