Jonathan Wootliff: Corporate citizenship an essential business ingredient

| February 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

WootliffCORPORATE CITIZENSHIP
AN ESSENTIAL BUSINESS INGREDIENT

 As a former director of Greenpeace International, I sometimes have a tendency to be cynical about the values and genuine intentions of big business.

Happily, there is a growing number of companies in the Czech Republic that are practicing what is often known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Sustainability.

Corporate Sustainability is the balancing of financial, environmental and social performance.

Companies have been traditionally judged on their ability to create wealth by delivering quality products or services.  However, with increasing stress on natural resources and unprecedented technological advance, society’s concern for environmental protection and social responsibility is placing new expectations on business.

Today, a company is not only judged by the traditional fiscal bottom line, but corporate reputation is increasingly moulded by environmental and ethical behavior.   Good corporate citizenship can be evaluated against the so-called “Triple Bottom Line”, with companies being held accountable for people and planet, as well as profit.

The traditional financial statement captures only those impacts that are primarily relevant to management, investors, shareholders and business owners.

Corporate sustainability is about balancing the sustenance of human life integrity of nature and then need to make a profit.  Living beyond our ecological means will lead to the destruction of humanity’s only home.  Having insufficient natural resources, and living in unsatisfactory and inequitable ways causes destructive conflict and instability.

According to a recent study conducted in the Czech Republic by the market research company, Ipsos, for 75 percent of customers it is important that the company is responsible.  The same is true for 86 percent of Czech employees who want to work for a socially responsible businesses.

CSR has evolved significantly in this country over the past few years with more companies than ever before publishing detailed sustainability reports for everyone to see what they are actually doing.

One such company is Plzeňský Prazdroj, makers of Pilsner Urquell, which has been publishing sustainability reports since 2006, providing a detailed account of its CSR practices.

Plzeňský Prazdroj is a source of pride for the Czech nation and an important contributor to the economy.  As such, it surely has a heightened responsibility to build and maintain positive relationships, utilise natural resources efficiently and effectively address the needs its consumers and local communities.

“We firmly believe that we can only conduct our business successfully if we manage to align our business interests with the expectations of our consumers, customers, suppliers and people from the regions where we operate”, says Paolo Lanzarotti, the company’s newly appointed general manager.

“Not only are the sustainability principles included in our strategy but they are also an inseparable part of our daily work, where we seek to implement the principles in everything we do”, he adds.

Its 2013 report articulates 10 sustainability priorities which embrace a broad mix of environmental and social issues which include  discouraging irresponsible consumption; encouraging enterprise development in its supply chains; using less water; benefiting communities; reducing energy usage; respecting human rights;  and aiming towards zero-waste operations.

Plzeňský Prazdroj outlines a range of voluntary initiatives designed to inform people about sensible drinking, in particular averting under-age consumption and drink driving.  The company clearly makes the point that its own measures, which are guided by a strict code of ethics, exceed current statutory requirements.

Consistent with one of the core principles of corporate sustainability, the Plzeňský Prazdroj explains the many initiatives it takes to ensure that its suppliers and customers adopt the responsible standards as it does.  As a key symbol of the Czech Republic, the company believes that it is important for all parties associated with its brands follow the highest possible ethics.

Mindful that brewing requires a considerable amount of water, the company reports on the technology it deploys to make savings.  Under the slogan, “more beer, less water”, the company has initiated a variety of projects, which has reduced consumption from 3.92 hectoliters of water used to produce 1 hectoliter of beer in 2012 down to 3.33 hectoliters today.

The company explains that providing benefits to its local communities is a key priority of its sustainability strategy.  The report documents how it spent nearly CZK 13 million last year on sustainability initiatives.

In its bid to reduce its carbon footprint, Plzeňský Prazdroj has established a goal to slash by 50 percent its energy usage from 2008 levels.  The report discloses its current energy requirements and shows how it plans to achieve its ambitious plan.

As a part of its strategy to respect human rights, although the report doesn’t provide figures on the proportion of women employees, the company highlights a programme called “Women Matter” which has been introduced to remove barriers to career development and enable a smooth return from maternity leave.

Plzeňský Prazdroj explains how it handles the waste generated in the brewing of its beer.  Of the 155,848 tons produced in 2012, the company claims that nearly 99 percent of it was reused.  On example given is the burning of organic waste in its heating furnace in Pilsen.

Although there remains room for improvement in its report, it is encouraging to see the guardian of one of the nation’s most valuable icons, setting such an example as a good corporate citizen.  But it is estimated that only some 40 or so companies are currently publishing such comprehensive sustainable reports in this country.

An increasing number of companies is engaging in responsible activities, the public awareness of CSR is rising, and customers are attributing more importance to sustainability.  But much more needs to be done.

Much of the corporate sector in this country has yet to fully understand and appreciate the importance of CSR and sustainability.  All too many businesses consider a charitable donation to be sufficient to boast good corporate citizenship.  But, as illustrated by the Plzeňský Prazdroj report, the concept really has to be integrated into the whole business, and not just used as marketing or public relations tool.

Sustainability is an essential ingredient for enhancing the image and reputation of Czech business in the world.   It is therefore heartening to see more companies joining the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development.  The need to convince managers of the strong case for developing a comprehensive CSR strategy, executing effective initiatives and openly reporting on their goals and outcomes has never been more important.

In spite of my scepticism as to the true authenticity of some company’s sustainability claims, there is clearly some impressive work being done in the Czech Republic.  The challenge is for this be scaled up so it becomes a mainstream business practice.

By Jonathan Wootliff

A former director of Greenpeace International, Jonathan Wootliff lives in Prague and works throughout the world as a sustainability consultant to business.  He is a special advisor to the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development.  He has consulted many large corporations including BP, Colgate-Palmolive, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, and providing counsel to companies on the development of sustainability strategies that benefit the environment, society and business.  Among his many activities, he helps companies to resolve disputes, forge productive relationships with non-governmental organizations, and build long-term sustainability strategies.  A qualified journalist with a subsequent background in public relations, Jonathan commonly assists companies with their sustainability communications.  He can be contacted at jonathan@wootliff.com

 

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