Responsibility begins at home

To tackle the challenges of 2009, businesses must stick with their CSR programmes – and start getting their own houses in order, says Stuart Jackson

Unquestioningly, brands have got to give customers a consistent quality of experience across their networks, products and services. However, being loved goes beyond that. It requires brands to foster an emotional attachment with the public. Companies having a clear understanding of what their responsibilities and values are can have an important role to play in that.

Businesses can make a big difference through their direction and decisions. While not losing sight of the fact that they are a corporate enterprise, with commercial pressures and targets to exceed, there are things they can do that require limited sacrifice and, in many cases, deliver benefits to both the business and the individual. Tweaking the way they operate can have a massive positive impact for both the customers and the company.

For example, over the past few months, Orange has made some significant changes to the way the company is run in order to become a more sustainable business in the long term. This also put it in a position to be able to think about how it can help its customers reduce their environmental impact. But any drive towards becoming a greener company has to start at home and requires a business to assess the scale of the impact it has on the environment.

Last summer, following an extensive round of consultation with stakeholders, Orange announced new environmental targets of reducing carbon emissions by 25% by 2010 in the UK.

To even begin such a journey, you need acknowledgment at the most senior levels to accept that, as a business, they do have an impact on the environment, and that it is them – and them alone – who are responsible for minimising that impact wher-ever possible.

Six months after announcing the targets, Orange struck a renewable energy deal with EDF, for the provision of green, renewable electricity in the UK. This energy from EDF accounts for 80% of the total energy Orange uses.

But tackling climate change isn’t enough. Businesses must also put in place targets and a strategy for managing waste. If you have retail outlets, you must improve energy efficiency in the stores and make sure you install better video conferencing facilities to remove the need for unnecessary travel.

Such initiatives require businesses to engage and inspire their employees to ensure they understand the responsibility they have as individuals to bring about collective change. It’s about being financially and environmentally smarter around how they work, what they do and how they do it.

Reviewing operations through the prism of environmental responsibility can reveal financial opportunities that might otherwise have been missed. It should not be overlooked that going green can be good for your bottom line. Any company that thinks responsibility is purely about polishing the corporate halo is wrong. It can be worked to bring home cold, hard, commercial benefits too, as well as aid staff retention. In a recent global survey, 57% of employees said their company’s reputation for social responsibility is a factor in retaining them.

Recently, people both inside and outside of business have been asking whether it is still sensible and credible to have an ambitious responsibility plan in the face of an economic downturn. I say yes, it’s even more important. Companies that have laid out their responsibility credentials must prove to their customers that they are true to their word whether operating in good times and bad. Being a responsible company must not be allowed to slip off the agenda just because times are tough. Quite the opposite.

Companies that remain true to the causes they have pledged to support and continue to place their values at the heart of the organisation, will win the trust, and love, of their customers. They will be closer to them than ever before.

The temptation may be to turn off the corporate responsibility life-support system and pump money into other areas of the business. But there must be a deep-rooted understanding that while customers may want value they don’t want it at the expense of values. 

Stuart Jackson is director of corporate responsibility for Orange UK

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