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The reason you NEED a CSR strategy

Author : Amanda Vlietstra

16 September 2022

A Corporate Social Responsibility strategy isn't just nice to have - it's a must-have...

Like ESG, CSR – which stands for Corporate Social Responsibility – has become something of a buzzword in in the last couple of years. Indeed, it’s very similar to ESG (which stands for Environmental, Social and Governance) in that it’s about how businesses impact on society, and what they should be doing – in short – to make the world a better place.

This represents a seismic shift from the expectation that businesses exist purely to make money and is very much consumer-driven. In fact, consumers now expect business to lead the drive towards a more sustainable, equitable way of living; the Edelman Trust Barometer (which, as the name suggests, measures public trust globally in institutions and business) found earlier this year that respondents in 28 countries want business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling and addressing racial injustice. Further, 60% of those surveyed buy brands based on their values and beliefs, with almost six in 10 employees choosing a workplace based on shared values. 

Staff retention

Clearly, then, CSR/ESG is vital to companies, not just as a means for building customer trust and brand loyalty, but as a tool in recruiting and retaining staff – something that cannot be underestimated in today’s tight labour market, which has seen the FM sector (among others) experience severe staff shortages. Indeed, a clear CSR/ESG strategy is necessary for investment – 64% of investors surveyed by the Edelman Trust Barometer said that they look to back businesses which align with their values.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s younger people who are driving this focus on CSR/ESG. As Phillipa Atkinson-Clow, general manager of The Water Dispenser & Hydration Association (the WHA), told PFM: “Millenials find it really important that companies think outside the box – that they aren’t just thinking about money but really are thinking about other people.” Research shows that she is correct; according to The Deloitte Global Millenial Survey, 42% of Millenials (born between 1981 and 1994) have ‘begun or deepened’ their relationship with businesses they believe have a positive impact on society and the environment, and 37% have abandoned or withdrawn from companies they don’t believe are ethical. 

The younger cohort, Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012), is even more passionate about environmental and social issues. Research by global research firm McKinsey found that 70% of Gen Z consumers try and buy from firms they consider ethical.

With Millenials and Gen Z already making up more than half of the global workplace, and social and environmental issues high up on governmental agendas, it’s evident that this focus on CSR/ESG isn’t going to disappear any day soon. So what does CSR look like from a facilities management industry perspective?

Supporting communities

The Water Dispenser & Hydration Association (which sets standards for the hydration industry, dovetailing with FM) has had a lot of success with its decision to support Just A Drop, an organisation which brings sustainable safe water, sanitation and hygiene projects to communities all over the world and was recently awarded Corporate Social Responsibility Project of the Year at the Charity Times Awards. Ms Atkinson-Clow told PFM that she “looked for a charity with great synergy’ and being a water-based organisation, Just A Drop was the perfect fit. It was also important to her to see where the money was being spent, and the WHA’s fundraising for Just A Drop so far has led to the creation of seven boreholes in Zambia, in Southern Africa. This, as Ms Atkinson-Clow pointed out, doesn’t just help the local villagers in terms of providing water for households and crops, but actively improves the lives of the women and girls who are generally responsible for water-collecting in this region.

It has also given the WHA’s members a chance to get involved in a CSR project, if they don’t already have one of their own. After the WHA’s first fundraising event – an auction, which raised more than enough for the first borehole – some TWHA members have organised fundraising events for Just A Drop themselves.


While the WHA’s story showcases the good societal outcomes that CSR can achieve, there is more to CSR than community action. It’s also about creating a sustainable business, with values and credentials that reflect this. This is very much part of the the WHA’s remit; Ms Atkinson-Clow says, “As an industry, we’re got great sustainability credentials,” pointing at the water cooler and refillable bottle as an example of how sustainable hydration can be achieved.

Looking after employees, providing a positive work environment, too, is all part of CSR - and – something else that Millenials and Gen Z increasingly expect. A study by the Great Place to Work found that Gen Z employees want to be paid fairly, given meaningful work, have space for mental health, and to have an employer that gives them a caring onboarding process. Supportive leadership is an expectation – 23% of Gen Z workers won’t take a job without it, according to research by Rainmaker Thinking.

Hannah Dales, group environment manager at Churchill, says that the company's CSR strategy is all about "helping the economy adapt to a more sustainable, long-term future."

She told PFM: "Churchill is fully committed to carrying out business fairly, honestly, and ethically across all business activities and divisions. We cultivate a purpose-driven culture, and our overall business strategy is fully aligned with this ethos. 

"As a nationwide facilities management business, we recognise the impact our work has on the planet that we all call home. That is why our goals are designed to give back. Whatever work we fulfil we look to reduce environmental impacts from operational activities, including energy and carbon reduction, waste management, and water. This is also why we have made the commitment to achieve net zero carbon emission by 2040. 

"From the social point of view, Churchill’s vision is enabling sustainable development in communities in which we work. We are doing this by prioritising the promotion of local skills and employment wherever possible. Growing various local supply chains with our regional business spider webs will help to bring a wealth of positive outcomes for local businesses and communities that Churchill works within. We are also partnering with expert organisations and have signed relevant covenants to support community segments where we feel we can help such as refugees, care-leavers, veterans and over 55s,' she concluded.

Positive workspace

There are many ways to create a supportive and positive work environment, such as ensuring it’s inclusive (something else that matters a lot to younger cohorts) and finetuning the onboarding process. Looking at the workspace itself can also help with this. Emma Wharton Love, a workplace strategy consultant with office design company Interaction and former director of hybrid working at the House of Commons, said: “The workplace is a physical representation of a company’s values. A considered approach to workplace design can therefore make a huge contribution towards the CSR strategy of a company.” 
She continued: “Inclusive, human-centric office design can promote the physical and mental wellbeing of all employees. That means providing a variety of work settings across the office that cater for different ways of working and ensure that everyone has the environment to work at their very best in psychological safety. It's also about understanding people’s different preferences and neuro-diverse workforces. 
“The fit-out materials and furniture you choose can also demonstrate your CSR credentials. Don’t just focus on using sustainable materials though, try to ensure they are also durable and will last the longest time. Using smart office technology, like automatically adjusting heating and motion sensing light bulbs, is another tangible way to demonstrate your approach to CSR,” she added. 

Ms Wharton Love points out that “…Innovative workplace design not only plays a crucial role in demonstrating your commitment to CSR, it can also boost your bottom line and help you attract and retain top talent.” And indeed, this is true of CSR itself, too. Of course, we all want to make the world a better place – but the bottom line for business is profit. CSR delivers in this respect; by creating a positive experience for consumers, investors and employees alike that builds engagement and loyalty, ultimately it pays for itself by improving that all-important bottom line.

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