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Healthy environment equals healthy business: building a CSR strategy that impacts the bottom line

Caring for the environment is a means of business growth but it’s vital to build a strategy around CSR and link it to the core values of your business and HR 

Corporate social responsibility

Businesses, regardless of what sector, region or industry they operate in, share one thing in common, right? The desire to grow and generate significant profit margins.

Some, of course, have more success than others and I have written about customer service, productivity, innovation and employee talent as keys to unlock corporate potential.

But what if I were to tell you that caring for the environment is a means of business growth? You might think I’m going slightly mad – surely when business leaders talk about corporate social responsibility they’re just doing it to generate some PR or fulfilling some legal obligation?

Wildlife can’t live in a polluted ecosystem and businesses can’t grow in a derelict environment

You’d be wrong. I believe that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a visionary business strategy and I can prove it. Wildlife can’t live in a polluted ecosystem and businesses can’t grow in a derelict environment.

For me, being socially responsible has always gone beyond fulfilling legal obligations or seeking positive publicity. It’s about how we do business; demonstrating a commitment to health and safety, people, communities, education, charitable efforts and the environments in which we operate.

CSR can benefit businesses in so many ways and if communities benefit also, it’s a win win situation.

On a basic level encouraging staff to take part in CSR initiatives boosts morale, costs a business very little and makes employees feel they (and their employer) are giving something back to others. Staff shouldn’t be coerced, but through internal comms can be inspired to volunteer.

This connects to both innovation and engagement. On the innovation side people can be allowed to be creative and come up with exciting new CSR ideas – they also develop qualities such as project management, team building and empathy.

Considering engagement at Dorchester Collection, the locations with the highest levels of staff engagement with CSR initiatives have the highest employee engagement scores – this, of course, links back to the bottom line in improved productivity and customer service.

This return on investment is calculated before you even start to consider the savings that can be made from energy and waste reduction schemes; not to mention the funds that can be raised for worthy causes.

Though, for this model to be successful, it’s vital to build a strategy around CSR and link it to the core values of your business and HR. My advice would be to look at CSR as an overall goal for your business, empowering staff to take the lead where appropriate, but avoiding a hotch-potch of unplanned initiatives.

Every employee must fully understand and believe in what you, as a company, are doing. It’s therefore vital to prove to them, and the business, that you are not just doing CSR for the sake of it. Every initiative has to have a clear outcome.

First there must be insight – CSR planning, like any business decision, has to take place in an environment of commercial awareness. New ideas and programmes cannot be created without first considering how it can support the achievement of corporate priorities. How will each CSR initiative impact on your staff and your customers?

Second, what gets measured, gets done, so measures should be put in place to analyse what worked and what didn’t with every CSR initiative.

I remember reading an interesting article that suggested that global businesses’ obsession with growth has become 'so mainstream' that we don’t even question it. But the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) has suggested that achieving sustainability will require an approach that de-emphasises growth and explicitly embraces environmental and social goals as the key dimensions of development.

So many studies show that people are not motivated by money, but by emotion – feeling good and doing good. The same should be true for business objectives and I believe businesses can have the best of both worlds, establishing more sustainable, charitable ways of working that don’t compromise profit and growth but build on them for the long term.

Eugenio Pirri is chief people and culture officer at Dorchester Collection and a member of The People Space Leadership Board

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