I have a clear belief that business can be a fundamental driver of positive social change, in fact I’d go further and say that it has an obligation to do so.
Working for a water and waste company in the Midlands, I know just how important it is to get it right and how we businesses should be criticised for not doing enough. But, it seems where we’d be held accountable if we slip on the environmental elements (and quite rightly so), if we don’t deliver on driving positive social impact, who challenges us?
Putting HR into CSR:
ESG and the role of HR
HR and L&D leaders call for more engagement in social policy
Addressing environmental social governance crucial to protecting legacy
Take ESG (environment, social, governance), the much talked about credentials of business. The E and the G are further developed through the connection of targets and regulation and legislation.
But when it comes to the S, the social impact a business has responsibility for, it feels like the focus has been on internal diversity and inclusion, or volunteering or community work. And if we’re honest, is that really enough?
Businesses now have the means and desire to do more and help their communities and society. To do it properly, and to develop a true plan for social change, we need to think about our societal impact the same way we think about our environmental one. We need to think targets and long-term commitment. Where we make sure we’re using green operating methods, minimising environmental impact and targets to reduce our carbon footprint. This logic should be applied to our societal plans and how we can make a positive, and genuine impact.
Last year, we launched a 10-year programme to support 100,000 people across the Midlands out of poverty, using employability skill training and work experience to create more learning and opportunities for people who otherwise may not have access to.
Of course, we can’t employ all 100,000 people, so this plan will be benefited by other businesses or organisations as we develop the skills in our region. But it will be the community that will benefit, and that’s what is important.
What is most important is the fact it is long term. It’s based on delivering measurable outcomes and is working collaboratively with others, like government, charities, and other organisations which, like Severn Trent, see the importance in delivering positive social change.
Obviously, we’d love to see some of those 100,000 people join our company, but the investment into the people living in our region will far outweigh the direct return. Why? Because it’s simply the right thing to do.
It’s more than just a statement, this isn’t ‘purpose washing’, there’s a clear commitment behind it, and if more and more businesses apply a similar logic, the impact will be vast and we can create a fundamental change in positive impact in society.
This will encourage companies to be seen to walk the walk rather than be all talk.
Neil Morrison is group HR director of Severn Trent