At the launch of the 33 Talent & Skylark Advisory CSR recruitment partnership, Jenny Costelloe (MD, Skylark Advisory) and I both said a few words. For those who attended, it was great to see you there! – for those that couldn’t make it, we’d love to see you next time. Here’s a synopsis on my own journey into the world of CSR.
I should start by saying that my view on CSR is reflective in some ways of the sectors and functions I’ve chosen to interact with during my recruitment career – other people may have had a different journey with the sector, and unwrapped it in different ways. But I think I represent a good portion of people when I explain what my own understanding of CSR has been and how it’s developed. I should also say, from the feedback I’ve had during numerous interviews with experts in the sector and in taking job briefs from a range of companies, that my personal journey is actually quite reflective of many stakeholders working in business that a CSR person would want to influence. Not just the woman on the street, but Executives who need to understand and buy into CSR’s function in order for it to be weaved into the commercial strategy of the company and not seen as nice-to-have that only exists to make everyone feel good. As we all know, in a recession it’s the sweet stuff that’s first to get axed.
CSR was traditionally something that I used to see attached to corporate comms where it was
frequently linked with ideas of charity and ‘giving something back’. Many of my candidates used to say that after years of product PR, they felt it was time to focus on something that operated on goodwill and were interested in moving into CSR to make this happen. Internal comms specialists would often mention it to me, talking about employee engagement in the company and wanting staff to feel their company had some good to do in the world. External comms would tell me that their remit was in part to make sure there was something positive to say at the end of the year about the schemes and initiatives the company was choosing out of goodwill to get involved in. This could often be in the face of a huge profit, which was becoming less popular news to the general public. Banks would be a classic example of this – turning a huge profit, but sponsoring a basketball league in the local schools around where their HQ was built in the London docklands. Later I saw CSR attached to corporate affairs, where it seemed it was linking to teams like compliance and governance. I saw this particularly in companies that had a contentious product – be that tobacco, alcohol, oil and gas or anything else where they would often be contending with regulatory environments or affecting local communities.
Since launching the Skylark Advisory and 33 Talent CSR recruitment partnership earlier this year, I’ve had the opportunity to deep dive into the world of CSR and sustainability. We’ve noticed a lot of roles are still within Corporate Affairs or Corporate Communications, because these people have an excellent overview of an organization, a lot of stakeholders across all business units and functions, and because they are great communicators. They can write and they can tell a story. But I’ve also chatted with people in the business units themselves: supply chain teams, investment teams, analysts, co-ordinators, weaving CSR focused decisions through a company’s operations and not ones that are always there as part of a Comms agenda.
Chatting with one person about why they run a sustainability investment portfolio, whether it was because the investors wanted to believe they were investing in sustainability focused businesses, the answer was that most the investors wouldn’t even know if they were part of this portfolio. It was simply a wise investment strategy as these companies would naturally run into less regulation, less possibilities for lobbying or opinion to derail their growth strategies, and as a result represented a sound long term investment strategy. No charity, no goodwill, no cake bake – this was business, and a sustainability focus was a reason a business would survive over the long term.
At the Responsible Business Forum last week, where we officially launched the Skylark Advisory-33 Talent recruitment partnership, this was certainly the topic of the conference – creating shared values where a company could benefit commercially from a strategy that was also beneficial to environmental, social or governance (ESG) agendas. Example after example was given of companies taking this approach to successfully affect their commercials (and be more profitable) whilst rewarding or interacting with an ESG agenda.
Walmart saving millions of dollars when it analysed the environmental impact of its road fleet was one example that stuck in my head. They brought efficiencies into the truck cargo after reflecting on the environment effect thousands of lorries waiting to load up and take long haul journeys would have. A great side effect – those efficiencies in transportation saved them literally millions of dollars.
So tying it all back into CSR careers from here, suffice to say the journey for me, and I believe for the sustainability industry as a whole, has come a long way since it was simply a corporate volunteer or charitable giving scheme. Those things are still hugely important and carrying on in many businesses with positive effects internally and externally in many of the companies we speak with. But there is another layer which has become more and more evident since some of those first dedicated CSR roles were being carved out. Whatever you want to call it, and many call it Corporate Shared Value, there is a huge opportunity for individuals and companies passionate about sustainability to become involved in their passion whilst also running a strong commercial agenda and creating the next phase of long term value for businesses in the markets of today.
We’d love to hear from you if you’re on this journey yourself, or interested in getting involved. Whether you’re building a team in your company, looking for a new role yourself, or just interested in building up your network – we’d be delighted to share experiences, network and direct assistance.