To many construction companies, CSR is just something more that detracts from the main business of creating a profit. So, how does this benefit the company’s bottom line? Holly Squire investigates
Enfield, in North London, in August of last year. These usually calm terraced streets are lined with cops in riot gear. Unease permeates the air, making it feel oppressively weighty. Hooded adolescents, some hiding their faces with scarves and balaclavas arm themselves with broken bottles and batons. Some of the protesters are breaking bricks into smaller pieces and throwing them at police officers.
Even now, two years later, Enfield is still dealing with the effects of that horrific night. The neighbourhood continues to undergo heavy regeneration and building activities and this is scheduled to keep on until 2016 – potentially generating more disturbances for surrounding households. While Enfield Borough Council has been keen to avoid the inconvenience caused by construction, building work is virtually always an activity that interrupts people’s lives. In the long run, however, construction is about improving the built environment and thus the community as a whole.
With this in mind, the council and contractors have come up with some unique methods to help mix the building sites with the rest of the town. Where temporary fences or plywood sheets would ordinarily border a site’s perimeter, Enfield’s Ponders End site is covered with 70sq m worth of pre-grown ivy: living, breathing, flora that securely surrounds the building site. The live hoardings also work as a graffiti preventative. Once they are finished with, they can be dismantled and redeployed in a new area – reducing the need to send them to trash. With these hoardings, an age-old dilemma of how to secure the works perimeter while yet offering the appropriate amount of security and access is solved in an environmentally responsible way.
Businesses must now think beyond the box, as evidenced by the ivy hoardings. Companies are increasingly compelled to become more accountable and more mindful of their social impact, and there is also a growing desire for firms to go beyond simply what is necessary.
Firms are now encouraged to be transparent, ethical, have solid governance systems and be responsive to the demands and perspectives of stakeholders. This is commonly characterised as increasing an organisation’s corporate responsibility, but what does that actually imply and what does it entail?
Pochin Construction’s CSR manager, Lara Da Rocha-Faria, explains that CSR is simply excellent economic sense. “With energy bills, material costs and taxes on waste all on the rise, making construction lean by reducing waste, materials, energy consumption, preventing accidents and reducing labour turnover are all ways in which businesses can save money,” she says.
Sometimes referred to as a ‘corporate conscience’, CSR is ultimately all about a corporation knowing, managing and improving its influence on the economy, the environment and society. And in today’s corporate world, it can play a crucial role in creating a company for future compliance and competitive success.
Apart from CSR being good, ethical, business practise, there is also particular regulation linked to CSR and sustainability – some of which directly focuses on the impact of the construction sector such as reporting on waste and the environmental impact of construction. According to the Public Services (Social Value) Act of this year, all public organisations in England must consider more than just the price of each contract when determining whether or not a deal is good for the community. In other words, businesses who have established solid practises in corporate social responsibility (CSR) will have an advantage when competing for public sector work.
CSR’s most serious opponent is waste on the job site. The construction sector is the major contributor of garbage in the UK. The sector utilises around 420 million tonnes of materials and products per annually and generates 120 million tonnes of waste – with 13 percent of products ending up in a skip as waste without ever being utilised.
Due to the pressing need to decrease trash, construction companies should make every effort to do so. This will have a positive impact on the environment, as well as their reputation for corporate social responsibility, while lowering the number of trips to landfill. Recipro, a materials exchange located in Wirral, is doing just that.
Trustland, a construction company, created Recipro in 2008 as a way to manage the waste generated on the job site. It functions as a web-based exchange for materials, with most products handed on for free or at minimal cost, and has worked with some of the greatest brands including Travis Perkins, Bam Nuttall, Wates Construction and Marks and Spencer.
While working on a new school construction project on the Wirral, the company collected and recycled more than 21.3 metric tonnes of construction trash. By repurposing these waste items, Recipro supported four different community groups and delivered an estimated saving towards community projects of £1,500. The North Liverpool Regeneration Company, Wallasey Gymnastics Club, Woodchurch Trust for the Community, and Hoylake Allotments all utilised materials redistributed through Recipro, including Thermalite and concrete block, kerb stones, bricks, fences, and flag stones. Recipro not only gives back to the community, but it can also reach out to those who would otherwise be unable to afford fresh materials.
Another important building materials business, Wienerberger, takes community involvement seriously. It has just embarked on a cooperation with the charity Habitat for Humanity which strives to construct secure, sustainable houses for needy people and communities throughout the world. As a result of this collaboration, Wienerberger has provided materials for projects in Romania and Bulgaria as well as in the nearby city of Liverpool.
With Wienerberger’s sponsorship, Habitat for Humanity will build a total of 140 homes in Romania and 15 in Bulgaria over the next three years.
Weinerberger’s head of marketing, Annette Forster, says the company’s comprehensive sustainability approach includes all of this. “We want to build houses for the future, work closely with local communities and we want to be a responsible part of society,” she says. “When your CSR policy fits in very well with your overall objectives and business, as ours does, it is just an extension of what you already do.”
Forster believes that organisations employing a strong CSR approach will find benefits well beyond reputational advantage, and that CSR may also help to bring out the feel good element in employees. We go above and above to provide a platform for our employees to give back, since we believe that everyone wants to do something worthwhile.
For me, the most satisfying part of my work comes from knowing that the work I am doing is actually making a difference.
In addition to Travis Perkins, other companies are also making an effort. Students at Moulton College in Northamptonshire recently received materials worth £1,000 thanks to the generosity of a local building supply company. For Travis Perkins, corporate social responsibility is at the centre of all it does.
As she puts it, “Travis Perkins takes very seriously its local community support and encouragement of new skills. These kinds of efforts are essential if the sector is to continue developing its talent pool.
In other words, CSR extends beyond a reputational and feel good advantage – it can also serve to inspire a new generation of talent and help to harbour talents across all levels.
Since the riots, the Sony distribution centre in Enfield has been completely renovated and reopened by Prime Minister David Cameron at the end of last year. Companies are becoming more strategic and well-informed in their work practises as CSR initiatives and performance become increasingly crucial in the sector. This helps keep disruptions at bay while also helping to enhance more than just the bottom line.