Local businesses are clearly demonstrating that environmental, educational and community initiatives significantly benefit themselves as well as the world around them. Jenny Burnside takes a look at the pursuit of profit with an eye on the planet
‘Being good is good business,” said the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. A firmly entrenched discipline in modern business, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has certainly broadened in scope from its 19th-century origins, when firms such as Cadbury provided housing for staff.
CSR activities span the environment, charities and the local community: essentially, any activity that constitutes being a good corporate citizen.
Kieran Harding is managing director of Business in the Community (BITC), a 250-strong member organisation which helps public and private sector organisations to actualise social responsibility commitments.
Mr Harding says the case is clear — “evidence has demonstrated that corporate responsibility makes a contribution to business success by securing the support of stakeholders, enhancing reputation both internally and externally.”
So how do our local companies view CSR? And in a tight economic climate, can CSR initiatives benefit a firm's bottom line? Brian Moreland, Moy Park CSR manager, explains: “CSR is about understanding Moy Park's impact on the wider world. As part of our mission to be a world-class organisation, the business must develop in a sustainable way. We recognise that the environment in which we operate extends beyond pure commercial activities.”
This approach has yielded significant savings, benefiting the business and environment. Committed to achieving an ambitious goal of ‘zero waste' status, Mr Moreland says: “Moy Park has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill from 80% to just 10% in 12 months. Six of our 15 main manufacturing, milling and hatchery sites across the UK have achieved the ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfill, with more sites to follow.”
By investing almost £100,000 in energy metering to manage usage, Moy Park has also made major efficiency savings.
“Over four years, a continuous improvement approach has achieved over 25% reduction in specific water usage, 30% reduction in trade effluent discharged and reduced associated costs,” says Mr Moreland.
And by switching from oil to gas, the Craigavon-based Almac Group also estimates that its efforts not to waste energy have saved them hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.
For those without £100,000 to invest, BITC can help, seeing one of their key challenges as further engagement with the smaller business community — the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy.
Through its Connections programme, BITC encourages established businesses to share their experience and expertise with small businesses to facilitate responsible growth.
Mr Harding says that since the 2009 launch of Connections, 130 small firms have received mentoring support, reporting consistent growth and an average increase of 43% in sales. Nearly 1,000 companies have also participated in best-practice seminars.
He adds: “There is a huge appetite for corporate responsibility in the SME sector, as many small firms are realising the business benefits of developing a strategic and integrated approach to corporate responsibility and are becoming [BITC] members in their own right.”
Bombardier Aerospace also works with smaller companies, investing heavily in CSR initiatives focused on the local community, with 2% of pre-tax profits ploughed back into the Bombardier Aerospace Foundation. It provides employment and learning opportunities to people from disadvantaged local areas.
Michael Ryan, Bombardier's vice president and general manager, also sits on the board of BITC. Mr Ryan believes that the private sector has a key role to play in terms of contributing to Northern Ireland's economic and social regeneration.
“One of Bombardier’s greatest impacts on the local community, in terms of economic regeneration, is its leadership in a major employability initiative, aimed at getting employment for long-term unemployed people from disadvantaged areas of Belfast,” says Mr Ryan.
Leading and sponsoring the West Belfast/Greater Shankill Employers' Forum with about 70 other employers, Bombardier has helped upwards of 1,000 long-term unemployed people to gain work. Elaborating on the forum, Mr Ryan said: “One of the programmes that forms part of the forum’s work is an Engineering Skills for Industry course, led by employers such as Bombardier, FG Wilson Engineering, Montupet and Ryobi. It is a 26-week pre-employment training programme, providing foundation-level engineering skills.
The course is delivered by Belfast Metropolitan College and is targeted solely at the unemployed. Since 2003, it has achieved a robust employment success rate, with 190 out of the 220 trainees who complete the course gaining jobs.
The Almac Group also funds significant local projects and charity work through schemes run by its staff and through the McClay Foundation, set up by Almac's late founder chairman Sir Allen McClay, a true philanthropist.
The foundation has funded £10m to the outstanding new Queen's University Library and £3.5m to the McClay Research Centre, part of Queen's Pharmacy School.
Philip Diamond, vice president of corporate market development at the Almac Group, says: “In total, research bursaries and donations from the McClay Foundation have been about £20m for academia in Northern Ireland to both Queen's and University of Ulster, with the majority going to Queen's. This is important to us, as we would recruit many of our staff from local universities.”
The importance of these combined CSR initiatives to the business is not to be underestimated. “There are staff, charity and environmental aspects to CSR and if you look at the bigger picture — the success of the Almac Group — it is hard to say how much of that is down to CSR, but it must be making a significant contribution,” says Mr Diamond.
Economist Milton Friedman argued that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits”. As the environmental, community and educational pursuits demonstrated by Moy Park, Bombardier and Almac show, the pursuit of profit need not be mutually exclusive to giving a mutually beneficial helping hand to the world around you in the process. And the BITC is on hand to help NI companies of any size to play a part.
Adrian Cadbury, head of Cadbury, said recent times that “a more widespread and critical interest is being taken in our decisions and in the ethical judgements which lie behind them”. As to whether CSR stems from a quest for better image or a deeply seated ethos, the answer is probably both — but as being good means good business, in Northern Ireland that seems to makes good economic sense all around.