Sustainability – Cost or Investment?

Posted on by Richard Summers

Tree planting CSR Saint-Gobain PAM

Richard Summers – Environmental Controller – Saint-Gobain PAM UK

If you work within the water industry and/or supply a number of public sector organisations, then sustainability and corporate social responsibility has to be on the agenda. It’s a condition of doing business.

But what is your real reaction to sustainability? What if you were allowed to express your feelings in privacy? Do you think that it is merely a case of paying lip service to CSR by having a relevant section on the website and is the industry really interested in products and solutions that help deliver a more sustainable environment and infrastructure, or do cost savings trump all of the above?

Do you privately decry all the red tape and reporting that is needed to demonstrate our credentials, or do you live and breath sustainability as an individual and as part of an organisation?

And while initiatives such as triple bottom line reporting, measuring social, environmental and financial (or people, planet and profit) attempt to put some accounting measurement on CSR, is this in truth just adding to a business’ burden?

Product development is being driven down the sustainable route in our industry and quite rightly, but what is the case for adopting a wider sustainable agenda outside of this narrow business focus?

My personal view is that morally it is the right thing to do, but second I believe that the impact that your organisation makes is important for the main brand ambassadors that your company has – its workforce.

We live in an era when the truth about our business, warts and all, will be communicated through social media and sharing. Word, or picture or video will get out, so doing the right thing will help grow your brand.

If sustainability is a key focus and key part of your reputation, then I believe that you need to go beyond a website page and posters on the wall and make it part of the everyday culture. That involves effort and planning.

By involving employees they can see that sustainability is part of the company culture and truly believe what it says on the website and those posters.

It is about finding those opportunities where you can make a difference and giving everyone in the company the opportunity to participate – and yes sometimes that will be during company time. Think of it as an investment in your brand rather than a cost.

Taking just one example for illustration, at Saint-Gobain we are celebrating our 350th year of being in business. Sustainable development is a core part of our philosophy, so finding ways of celebrating this milestone while reinforcing this stance among employees is vital.

One initiative at our Telford site has seen the company link up with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust to create an anniversary woodland containing 700 native UK trees, two for every year that Saint-Gobain has been in business. It will help create a habitat for birds and small mammals, plus a rare butterfly found in Telford called the White-letter Hairstreak and is part of a wider Shropshire Wildlife Trust/Alcoa Foundation project to plant 6,000 trees.

Volunteers from the company have planted a mix of nine different native tree and shrub species on the company’s now unused landfill site in Telford, including a disease resistant strain of Elm.

As part of the project our employees were not only involved in planting the trees, but were also trained in skills such as coppicing.

The project was important on two levels. It demonstrates our commitment to environmental sustainability to our customers, but I would argue that more importantly it shows our employees that we live and breath our values. Over the longer term the second reason may prove more powerful for us as they spread this message.

So that is my case for adopting a sustainable agenda within your company and going beyond minimum expectations. In today’s era of mass communication where everyone has a view and can publish it via social media, the truth will come out. It’s time to examine what your company stands for and ask whether you really live by these standards?

Do you agree or do you feel that sustainability is getting in the way of actually doing business? Do you think that ultimately cost trumps any other argument as austerity continues to bite among many of our customers? Are you for or against adopting a wider sustainability agenda than is required by our customers?

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