Why sustainability and CSR should be top considerations for business leaders

5 mins

Delivering on sustainability and CSR goals has always been a priority for businesses, however in the last few years they have taken on a pivotal role, particularly since Generation-Z job hunters joined the market and the COVID-19 pandemic impacted priorities. Only by treating social value as a top consideration and reforming their corporate culture accordingly will businesses be able to align themselves with the changing expectations of their people and clients.

The pursuit of higher standards of CSR is nothing new in the business world. Every successful senior executive will understand the importance of being able to demonstrate that their organisation is working proactively to give back to their community, ensure respectable labour standards, and reduce their environmental impact.

However, there is no question that in the last few years, sustainability and CSR have taken on a more prominent importance than ever before. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have observed that their clients, candidate bases, and regulatory overseers have all been placing a significant emphasis on social value — and companies that fail to adjust to these trends risk being left behind.

Here, we will explore the ways in which expectations around sustainability and CSR have changed in recent years and look at the methods that business leaders can employ to ensure these expectations are met.

The changing definition of social value programmes

In the past, organisations may have been guilty of viewing CSR as a transactional or box-ticking exercise, defined by one-off commitments to environmental causes, charitable donations, community outreach exercises and other similar activities.

However, the perception of worthwhile CSR has been shifting for some time, and has now taken on a broader and more holistic definition. Instead of focusing on single acts of corporate generosity, CSR policies now involve creating a culture that delivers social value and gives back to communities in various ways, including:

  • Sustainable business practices.
  • A commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Corporate transparency and accountability.
  • An overall dedication to strong institutional values and ethics that inform decision-making.

This realignment of the definition of ‘social value’ has been happening for a number of years. However, there is no question that the pandemic accelerated this process by shining a spotlight on the crucial role that businesses play in supporting their communities and their workforces. This shift has had a significant impact on the amount of time, budget and focus that business leaders are willing to place on social value activities and there is nothing to indicate that the changing status of CSR since the onset of COVID is likely to reverse at any point.

Change driven by multiple perspectives

One of the main reasons why this new, more proactive approach to CSR is unlikely to disappear is because it is being championed by stakeholders at every level. Forward-thinking executives are pursuing social value as a key goal because they see the demand for it is being reflected at every structural level.

For the public sector in particular, CSR has become a key requirement as part of central government’s levelling-up agenda. The delivery of tangible social value now makes up 10% of the overall weighting when evaluating a public sector proposition. It is expected that this will increase in years to come, meaning these organisations have a practical as well as a social obligation to deliver more on this front.

The increased engagement with themes of sustainability and CSR are also reflected at a consumer level. According to 2019 statistics compiled by Aflac, 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place - a figure that is only likely to have increased in the years since the pandemic. This applies to providers of both services and goods, and reflects the fact that the modern consumer is willing to research the brands they engage with, and prioritise the ones that reflect their own values.

This is also a consideration for existing staff and potential talent, who will take a company’s CSR policies and social values into account when deciding whether to work there or not. Since the pandemic, there has been a rise in the number of people who are actively seeking roles with purpose, where they believe that what they are doing will have a positive impact on the world, rather than simply working for a paycheque. In a candidate-short labour market, it is up to businesses to respond to this - otherwise, they simply will not be able to compete with more purpose-driven brands for the top talent.

What should businesses be doing differently?

It is clear from these trends that businesses are under pressure to transform the way they operate in order to adjust to the changing CSR and sustainability expectations they see in the modern marketplace.

There are a number of innovative ways that organisations might choose to approach this:

More and more businesses are making active efforts to employ locally, away from big cities such as London. By doing so, they are able to bring more business activity, wealth and equality to smaller towns and cities that have traditionally seen less activity, helping to strengthen local communities and play a part in the national levelling-up agenda.

Companies are seeking to make sustainable improvements across all aspects of their day-to-day activities, whether by going paperless, selecting more sustainable suppliers, or switching from single-use supplies to refillables. Not only are these steps having a positive impact on the environment, but they also help the businesses to save money.

Most organisations continue to maintain a strong commitment to remote working, flexible hours and digital processes, all of which were normalised during the pandemic. This allows the companies to align with the expectations of staff, while also helping to save money on commuting, reduce energy costs within the office, eliminate travel times and cut the environmental impact from emissions.

Businesses are changing their senior decision-making structures to ensure that CSR and social value considerations are taken into account on a holistic basis. This means communicating with employees and monitoring the market to see what is being done well and where the organisation is falling short, and canvassing for new ideas and innovations from the frontlines, which can then be discussed and actioned at board level.

In many cases, organisations are bringing in external expertise, such as a dedicated director of CSR and sustainability, or a board member responsible for diversity and inclusion. These are roles that did not commonly exist even a couple of years ago, but are now becoming increasingly commonplace.

Ultimately, the most important factor to realise is the reality that CSR and social value should now be considered a key part of the lifeblood of a modern organisation’s success, rather than a secondary obligation. If businesses fail to account for this, they will not be able grow or properly compete in the market in 2023 and beyond, and it is the responsibility of business leaders in both the public and private sectors to ensure their organisations keep pace.

By seeing the creation of social value as an opportunity to drive improvement, success and create a long-term vision, business leaders will be able to harness CSR’s full potential for the good of their organisation — and society as a whole.

Find out more

For more insights into the future of business leadership and how to ensure that your organisation’s values and priorities align with those of your clients and candidate base, get in touch with Sellick Partnership.

Take a look at our Senior & Executive recruitment services hub for more information on how we can help you to establish a progressive, growth-focused culture within your organisation, or get in contact with a member of our team today.