By: Ann Beavis, Head of Sustainable Development at Crown Workspace
From January this year, it has been mandatory for public sector contracts to have 10% of the tender evaluation process based upon a potential supplier’s social value strategy. The measures around social value seek to boost skills and employment, encourage economic growth, tackle climate change, and play into the Government’s levelling up agenda for the UK. The rationale behind the latest measures is to ensure that, through public procurement, positive impacts are created directly relevant to local social need. But what makes social sustainability so different to CSR? And how can businesses engage with this agenda?
The big difference between social sustainability and CSR
Historically, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been more about what firms wants to do, rather than what society really needs. Familiar CSR activities like sponsoring a football team or doing charity fundraising, though good things to do, are often selected more for their feel-good factor rather than directly targeting a relevant need in the local community.
Social sustainability is not CSR as usual. It involves gaining a deeper understanding of the social issues and themes that are relevant to both the geographic area the business is operating in and also the nature of the service provision. It can be seen as the procurer and supplier on a journey to reach a level of social sustainability that benefits society while being achievable for the business. It has to be additional, above and beyond what the business would already be doing anyway.
In short, social sustainability involves considering the external impacts a business is having, both positive and negative, on people, and proactively managing these impacts once they have been identified. At Crown Workspace, we provide sustainable workplace solutions that employ the circular economy to help clients manage their carbon emissions and meet climate change targets, reducing the impacts of pollution. These concepts that are commonly used to address environmental issues can also be applied to social settings. It’s useful to think about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are wide-ranging and cover social issues from equality to health and wellbeing, education and employment – these social elements are just as compatible with sustainability as environmental goals like climate action.
Because social sustainability is not a tick box activity, professionals need to be strategic in their thinking. Businesses should, in effect, be auditing themselves and discovering where they stand, with an awareness of key environmental and social drivers. Some of the key social issues such as accessible employment, staff development and planning for a low carbon economy are areas that businesses seeking to be more responsible should already be addressing. However, to become strategic in social sustainability it is important to start to engage with stakeholders, particularly clients, to look at the challenges they are seeking to address and how services and resources can be used to support those in a more meaningful way. Organisations may, for example, support staff volunteering days as a way to ‘give back’ – but encouraging staff to lend their professional skills to an organisation to save on costly consultancy fees may be more fruitful to a chosen charity then simply providing them with less expensive manual tasks.
As a business moves to be more sustainable in how it delivers its everyday functions, the more ready it will be to build in the additional and localised projects expected from clients as part of their social value.
How can organisations add social value as we rebuild from Covid?
Tenders will vary in how specific they are about the social issues and outcomes desired. Procurement is driving social sustainability, but to be effective it must be really clear in what the social needs are and how supply chains are expected to address those issues. It is important to consider what elements of a social sustainability strategy are relevant to ask a supplier to support, given the nature and size of the procurement piece.
A strong example that is clear and prescribed to the procurement piece might be, for instance, a university asking for support for local graduates, knowledge exchanges or apprenticeships.
Businesses should look for the right fit, considering what is needed locally and reflecting on what can be achieved with existing services and resources. For Crown Workspace as a people-focused business with existing sustainability services, some of the business’s usual activities lend themselves to delivering forms of social value. As part of our sustainable workplace clearance offering, we operate The Giving Back Project which helps divert redundant IT and furniture items to local charities, schools and social enterprises. If there are particular social causes most in need, we can seek to identify these and readily offer these organisations resources to reduce their costs and improve their operations, without having to start from scratch.
While different regions will vary, the public sector is likely to look for certain types of social value post-covid – such as economic recovery, environmental sustainability, or the levelling up agenda. Focusing on skills, training and apprenticeships as a core strategy is likely to align well. Another good place to start is looking at strategies such as the circular economy, and understanding emissions, as these two things alone will line up with a great many social value requirements.
How to approach social value strategically:
These three top tips will help anyone tasked with developing a social strategy ground their approach:
Be considered in your approach
If you don’t have a plan for how to address this increasingly important agenda, then now is the time to create one, put processes in place and pay close attention to detail. The best strategies are precise, based on a close analysis of what the social need is and what the business is best positioned to achieve.
It’s wrong to deny the requirement to be commercial. A sustainable business is a profitable one – so focus on financial impacts as well as social and environmental. Find metrics that are not just about £s, but also about value delivered and savings made. There are emerging frameworks for measuring social value.
People in the community will notice when a business is striving to make a real difference, even when it does not shout about it. You may find that you have supported a school or hospital that your clients or staff are involved with. Donations to important projects in the community can be great for staff retention and are good for business.
For more information about Crown Workspace, which specialises in sustainable workplace solutions, please visit https://crownworkspace.com/uk/