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Your responsible business

Stephen Howard, Chief Executive of Business in the Community, highlights some of the ways businesses can reap the rewards of Corporate Responsibility.

Corporate Responsibility (CR) is a huge, diverse area of thought and practice, including sustainability and the environment; creating a diverse, engaged workforce; and working in communities to foster enterprise and reduce deprivation. But there are some general principles which are helpful to apply across the board.

The importance of leadership

If your leaders aren’t driving responsibility, it makes it harder to embed. Chief executives who have a personal passion for this agenda are more likely to build it into the corporate culture.

You also need a clear governance structure. While 93% of CEOs believe boards should discuss and act on social and environmental issues, only 75% feel their boards are doing so, according to a recent report Business in the Community published with Cranfield School of Management. This report also provides some useful tools and checklists to make sure CR is embedded at board level.

If your company takes these issues seriously at leadership level, it will drive engagement among your workforce – and if your employees are happier, they’re more productive.

Identify your unique contribution

What is your expertise as a business? How can you make the best use of that?

There may be ways you can integrate circular economics into your product design and creation, to ensure your product cycle forms a closed loop where natural materials return to the ground and man-made, non-toxic materials are re-used in other products. For example, M&S is asking customers to bring unwanted clothes back to stores so they can be resold, reused or recycled – its ultimate ambition is to collect as many clothes as it sells.

Another example might be targeting your employee volunteering programme more carefully. For example, if you are an accounting firm, ensure these are the skills your people use when they volunteer.

Be prepared for the future

By 2050, the world’s population will be nine billion. Is your business thinking in the right way about long-term issues like this and others, such as increasing resource constraints and changing weather patterns? These are challenges, but also massive opportunities. All companies have short-term priorities and concerns, but if you don’t make the time to consider how to build a sustainable future, you risk your business model becoming obsolete or untenable.

The thing to remember is that CR is an ongoing journey, not a destination. There is always more a business can do and, ultimately, it will be to the benefit of the business to do so.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK