Written by: Grant Hayward
Thumb through any recent issue of B4 Magazine and you will see an increasing number of stories about local businesses embedding purpose and an ethical approach into the heart of what they do. Perhaps it is no surprise then that B4’s Richard Rosser was tremendously welcoming of my offer to work with him to help develop ‘B4 Values’; a clear declaration of what B4 stands for and the types of businesses B4 seeks to attract and promote.
You will be hearing more about B4 Values over the coming months and it will be integral to ‘Oxford & Oxfordshire, World Class & Connected’, being launched at BIO2018, where I am also very much look forward to presenting on the topic. So, as a taster, I would like to share some insights with you, exploring some of the myths, misunderstanding and, most importantly, the significant opportunities open to businesses in a newly developing local, national and global landscape – and why business for good is good for your business.
The problem I have with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
The term CSR refers to the ways in which a business operates in relation to society and the environment and, if the truth be known, I have a few issues with it……
The first is the use of the word ‘corporate’, which I would suggest most of the, circa 30,000, businesses in Oxfordshire do not relate to. I come across so many brilliant businesses of all sizes doing some great things.
The second is related to the first issue. In my experience, CSR is misunderstood and underestimated in the value it has to businesses, especially SME’s. Many consider it to either be an obligation with connotations of regulation and compliance, or perhaps simply limited to supporting local charities or reducing the carbon footprint of the company. As commendable as these are, there are so many more opportunities that businesses could be opening up to improve their organisations. But however you refer to it, I firmly believe the underlying principles are great for business.
Clarification and simplicity
If a company really wants to take this topic seriously, there are European Standards that can be attained: ISO 26000 – Social responsibility and ISO 14000 family – Environmental management. But I prefer to take a much simpler approach and focus on four commonly accepted elements:
Each of these elements provides a wide range of opportunities for businesses and here is just a flavour of each of them.
The ways in which organisations trade both up and down supply chains can be leveraged to deliver significant social and environmental impact as well as enhance market positions. For example, long standing B4 member Blenheim Palace recently demonstrated its support of the recently established business Wonky Food, by including its products in its retail range and also providing on-going mentoring support. B4 has also supported Blenheim by providing Wonky Food with a complimentary B4 membership and exposure in the magazine, in addition to an Official Product Partner slot at BIO2018.
Customers are becoming increasingly discerning about whom they buy from and why. At the other end of the scale, businesses are becoming more selective when it comes to their suppliers, choosing to trade with those that best fit their ethos and businesses are also asking more probing questions of them. Significantly, payment performance can easily enhance or damage reputations.
The progress made with improved recycling over the past few years is admirable and is now a given to most of us. But with some creative thinking, businesses have the opportunity to make significant cost savings and enhance credibility through reduced energy usage and emission from more efficient travel arrangements and waste reduction.
B4 member, Oxford Bus Company, became the first Oxfordshire business to develop a community-benefit renewables project with the Low Carbon Hub. Although this might be impractical for smaller businesses, Oxfordshire has a reputation for hosting hundreds of environmental charities, social enterprises and private sector organisations with which valuable partnerships and projects can be developed.
With fierce recruitment competition locally, staff and potential employees are becoming more demanding in terms of what they expect from employers and how they are looked after. Supported and promoted by B4 member Unipart, the Oxfordshire Workplace Wellbeing Network is growing to provide peer support for local businesses, reinforcing their position as employers of choice.
There are also opportunities for employers to enhance the workplace and develop more diverse and inclusive workforces. A project supported by B4 member Allen Associates in association with Aspire Oxford recently hosted a well-attended employer conference around Inclusive Employment.
Companies across Oxfordshire are making valuable contributions to local communities in support of Social Enterprises, charities, smaller community groups and schools. This is enhanced by the OxLEP’s Skills Team, which works with local schools, as well as responsible business groups such as Reciprocate and the ROBIN Network, both of which I am very proud to be associated with.
Support from groups like these open up excellent opportunities for collaborative partnerships that can create powerful impact in local communities
A perfect storm
The national and local economic and social landscape has changed significantly and continues to do so. Despite a very strong local economy, we still have many challenging social and environmental issues before us at a time of reduced public spending and cuts in public services. The work and volunteering I undertake through Collaborent is aligned to my belief that these aren’t problems for central or local government to solve alone, nor should we expect charities to just step in. And it most certainly can’t be left to the private sector.
So, working with local businesses, including B4, I am helping businesses understand the crucial role they can play alongside and in collaboration with the public, voluntary and Social Enterprise sectors to open up the opportunities barely touched on here.
B4 is for business people who understand that success isn’t achieved by a ‘quick win’ or with a hard-sell approach. The B4 community encourages authentic ethos, collaboration and reciprocation and the B4 Value statement will underline the importance of trust, integrity and honesty to the B4 community. The ways in which members trade, look after their workforce, the environment and local communities are fundamental to their success as well as all stakeholders.
No matter what size your business is and whether you are already engaged in some of these opportunities, there is so much more you can do that can also enhance your business. It’s my view that if businesses don’t operate in these ways, they will fall behind and may even cease to exist.
I am delighted to be presenting on this topic at BIO 2018 and hope to see you at that session. I will also be delving deeper into this topic over the next few issues of B4 as it unveils its exciting new initiatives including B4 Values, I will be drawing inspiration from B4 members, so if you have an interesting and related example, or would just like to know more or connect, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.