Ethical business

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ethical business lightbulbWe investigate why being ethical and aware of your corporate social responsibility can yield progression, PR and – most importantly – profit.

Ethics, at grass-roots level, is a matter of what is right or wrong – so when it comes to integrating a concrete ethical strategy, your own views and beliefs are likely to be an important consideration.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), focuses on how your business manages its values and behaviour in relation to its customers; employees, stakeholders and wider society, and thus, as you may expect, comes hand-in-hand with ethics in business development and management.

Being an ethical business is not simple, however, and requires thorough consideration and planning to ensure that all crucial areas are covered, including: employees; energy and the environment; legislation and the community. There are, of course, different levels with which you can engage with CSR, so it’s important to understand where – and to what degree – you want to consider ethical factors in your business.

In a society where green energy and growing a low-carbon economy is at the forefront of the global consciousness – and the ever-gloomy state of the financial climate – keeping your customers and stakeholders onside is going to be vital for future and continued success.

Awareness of your environment, both in the business market, society and ecologically, is about taking responsibility for your company and its processes and outputs. Remember: this does not mean that profit and growth, in any shape or form, need to be compromised; in fact, CSR can help improve business function and work as an effective PR tool. Many companies now prioritise their low-carbon strategies as not only a way to save money, but as a method for communicating to their customers that they are an ethically conscious organisation. Through such publicity and paying attention to your CSR, you may be able to broaden the array of companies that will be keen to trade with you, particularly looking at third and public sector organisations.

Implementing a green vision in your business development can even be configured as a key constituent of your brand identity. For example, search-engine leader Google pride themselves on their sustainability, with their data centres using 50% less energy than other similar operations and utilising wind farms for energy supply. If a big-time corporation such as Google can be eco-friendly, then an SME or start-up can implement similar strategies with noticeable results.

When you’re in the initial stages of business, getting your name recognised – and what’s more earning a credible reputation – is critical for growth. So building a solid relationship with the local community is imperative; whether this be through recruitment by taking on students from local schools to carry out work experience or even employing residents to join your organisation in a paid capacity; or supporting local producers if you’re involved in catering or food production.

Accredit your ethics

Ethical accreditation is offered by the Ethical Company Organisation (ECO), which certifies that a company has scored highly in an analysis of its Corporate Social Responsibility. The application process for accreditation takes six weeks and sees the ECO analyse a variety of ethical criteria covering the environment, animals and people. To find out more information about gaining ethical accreditation, see the ECO’s website: www.ethical-company-organisation.org

Maintaining standards

ISO 14001 is an internationally accepted standard that sets out criteria that organisations need to meet in order to ensure they are implementing an effective Environmental Management System (EMS). This involves monitoring the environmental impact that the company has and laying out objectives to reduce this impact and meet the environmental laws relevant to the specific business. The standard is available for all businesses, big and small, and to learn about the steps towards certification look at the Assessment & Certification area of BSI Group’s website at www.bsigroup.co.uk

This is all well and good, but what is being ethical going to bring to your business?

Being green

As aforementioned, taking your ecological environment into consideration in your business plan and strategy is a great way not only to demonstrate that your organisation cares about its energy consumption, but to save you money from the get-go.

Implementing efficient waste management – including a recycling scheme – and cutting energy emissions is a sure-fire way to streamline your energy consumption – not to mention your costs.

By spending less on buying materials and reducing the landfill tax you pay, you can continue to make cost-savings throughout the year and as your business develops. With employees, customers and potential stakeholders demonstrating increasingly eco-friendly consciences, conveying a sturdy environmental responsibility is likely to be a growing factor in securing new custom.

HR

We’ve already touched upon CSR as a crucial PR tool and constituent of brand identity, so it probably comes as no surprise that ethical consideration spans into the sphere of employer branding. For attracting potential employees and ensuring they have a positive perception of your business is crucial to securing – and what’s more retaining – the talent that will allow your organisation to go from strength to strength.

If you hold a reputation as a fair and ethical employer, then it is undoubtedly going to improve your chances of recruiting the right employees. Additionally, this means that the cost and time of the recruitment process and retraining can be substantially reduced through improved staff retention. Remember: if you are able to provide your employees with rewards and incentives, they are much more likely to be productive and feel encouraged to go out of their way for you.

Adhering to ethical practice in your business can encourage a variety of benefits to your organisation: from a basic, moral standpoint, doing what you can to help your employees, the environment and the local communities can help make a rewarding difference; and on a secondary (and perhaps more profitable) level, being aware of your CSR can make a significant difference to your reputation as a fair business and employer, and consequently your ability to grow.

Negative and positive impacts

In October 2011, the European Commission published a new policy on CSR that looks at how enterprises can manage their negative and positive impacts on the environment and society, stating that in order to fully meet their social responsibility, businesses “should have in place a process to integrate social, environmental, ethical and human rights concerns into their business operations and core strategy in close collaboration with their stakeholders”. (To read more about what the European Commission has to say about CSR, log onto www.ec.europa.eu)

Follow the leaders

We take a look at some examples of large UK companies that put ethics and corporate social responsibility at the forefront of their business strategy and employer brand…

The Co-operative Group

The Co-operative Group publishes Sustainability Reports each year, providing whoever may wish to read with information and statistics about the business’ performance and priorities when it comes to corporate social responsibility. The Group delivers a variety of programmes and approaches which mark them as one of the most ethical organisations in the UK ranging from fairtrade products to the Co-operative Bank’s Ethical policy.

Furthermore, in June 2010, the Co-op launched a £30 million inspiring young people scheme, which aims to help 330,000 young people across the UK through helping them find either employment, volunteering or training. Such community investment enables the Group to give something back to society and, of course, promotes them as an ethical and charitable company to work for and with.

Ford

As automotive manufacturers, Ford’s impact on the environment is a key consideration for them in relation to corporate social responsibility and as a result, renewable energy plays an important role in their ethical standpoint. William Clay Ford, Jr., Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company believes that: “Creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals – they are both essential ingredients for long-term success.”

Wind turbines on the Ford Dagenham site now supply all of the electricity necessary to support the Diesel Centre, producing around 6.7 million kilowatt hours, which is enough to power over 2,000 homes. Ford have also made other ethical steps towards reducing their energy consumption through installing solar panels on the roof of the Bridgend Engine Plant in Wales, which generate 110,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. The solar panel installation in Bridgend was the first of its kind at any car plant in the world and is part of the reason that the manufacturer has been listed as one of the world’s most ethical companies by think-tank Ethisphere Institute.

The Ford Britain Trust – established in 1975 – moves away from energy-related concerns and focuses on Ford’s local communities, helping to fund education in the surrounding areas. The Trust offer two types of grants: small (up to £250 available four times a year) and large (between £250 and £3,000, offered twice a year). The fact that the Trust particularly encourages applications from Ford employees – although is open to all – demonstrates how Ford appreciate their staff as well as local people.

James Caan on CSR:

“If you are in a position where you’re fortunate and you’ve done well, I think using both your time and your expertise to giving something back that makes a difference to society is really important; it’s all about social entrepreneurship. Making money is one thing, but then deploying that capital and giving other people the opportunity to do well, to grow and to learn is absolutely crucial.”

 

Words: Jessie Bland


This article was first published in Your Business with James Caan in January 2012.


 Image: Shutterstock

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