Ian Stewart: Responsible business is at the heart of the nation

'You know, this is a business. I'm not doing this for an Esther Rantzen Heart of Gold, or if Esther's handing out awards, then do it for my charity work. Five fun runs in two years.'

The latest edition of Vision Scotland.

The quote from Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office cuts to the heart of old-style corporate social responsibility, or CSR as those in the know loved to call it. Fun runs, bake sales, dress-down days; all very worthy, but all very much add-ons to the day job.

And while many of the firms who embraced CSR did so in a very genuine way, there was always a sense that some businesses liked to talk the talk, but not really walk the walk – sponsored, or otherwise.

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Things have changed. Traditional charitable efforts are now part of a much broader approach to CSR, which has been largely re-cast as responsible business.

CSR was in many ways a restrictive term: “a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”

Responsible business is cut from the same sustainable cloth but is more of an attitude of mind than a dictionary definition – and very much focused on practical action which makes a real difference to society as a whole.

Take the contribution of Adler & Allan to the Business Emergency Resilience Group, which has taken real strides towards making sure communities are better prepared to cope in a crisis, ensuring all available support is managed and co-ordinated from a single hub. That could be the difference between life and death when a catastrophic event like a flood hits a community.

There is also clear evidence of a maturing of the mutually beneficial relationship between business and social enterprise – highlighted here by the work of Burness Paull and Street Soccer Scotland.

What David Duke, the energetic figurehead of Street Soccer Scotland highlights is crucial; football might well be the vehicle, but behind it lies a real opportunity to effect social change.

It’s no longer just about corporate Scotland donating money, or delivering support in kind, to charities and social enterprises.

It’s about businesses joining a movement for change and embedding that right across their business.

This makes real business sense as younger recruits in particular no longer want to work for a firm that puts its focus solely on making money. They want their business to have a heart and do good.

Social enterprises like Street Soccer Scotland and Social Bite have tapped into that – and shown that responsible business doesn’t have to be dour and worthy. It can be about football, fun and film stars, and it can achieve great things.

Perhaps David Brent was right after all, in a roundabout kind of way. Responsible business can be fun, but it can deliver for the bottom line too. In 2016, it’s fine to say, “You know, this is a business”.

Vision Scotland hopes SNAP-RB, the Scottish National Action Plan for Responsible Business, takes the discussions onto a new level and that companies heed the message from Scottish Business in the Community managing director Jane Wood – and rise to the challenge.

This article appears in the WINTER 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.