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31.10.12

Meeting the CSR Challenge

Chris Williams-Lilley, founder and managing director of Rail Champions, discusses corporate social responsibility.

Over the past 12 months, Rail Champions has been working with a business-led charity, Business In The Community, which helps companies and individuals transform their business and communities through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), so it seems appropriate to share some of our thoughts on the vision of CSR in the rail sector.

Personally having worked in the rail sector for over seven years now, I have been lucky enough to have made a significant contribution on many recent large-scale projects such as St Pancras, East London Line and Crossrail, and similarly witnessed the impact of delivering large scale infrastructure projects – particularly the disruptions to passenger services whilst major station upgrades are undertaken, with an increase in traffic, noise and dust pollution in the local community that the station serves.

Increasingly, businesses are charged with the added responsibility of taking into account climate change, carbon reduction and the impact of their activities on the environment. All three issues can be addressed through the development and implementation of a sustainable agenda – something we are keen to champion.

So what is the rail sector doing to tackle the CSR challenge? First of all, there must be a common understanding on what CSR actually stands for. It’s mentioned in Network Rail’s tender documentation, and starting to feature in PQQs. Simply put, CSR is focused on operating the core business in a socially responsible way, complemented by investment in communities for solid business case reasons.

Social responsibility becomes an integral part of the value creation process – which if managed properly could enhance the competitiveness of your business and maximise the value of wealth creation to society (not just for shareholders).

Network Rail is leading the way on CSR, and you can be sure suppliers will need to demonstrate their understanding of how they too can contribute to their efforts, down through the supply chain, offering benefits in terms of sustainability which go way beyond Total Quality Management (TQM).

Of course, CSR is not a new concept. Our Victorian forebears seemed to offer an abundance of philanthropic ventures, alongside their main businesses, building schools, hospitals and housing for its workers. So what lessons can be learnt? As with any process based on the ‘collective’ activities of corporations and communities, there is no ‘one size fits all’. There will always be different priorities and values that will shape how businesses act. By questioning common beliefs, a fresh approach can sometimes lead to game changers or doing things differently that provide much better results.

In Network Rail’s recent CSR Report (2011) there seems to be a clear emphasis on the need for business leaders to influence a dramatic change towards making savings on wholelife costs. Sir David Higgins, CEO of Network Rail, articulates his belief that this is an area “where good ideas can come from anybody – often, from the people most exposed to a problem, challenge or issue. With a sector as complex as the rail sector, there is recognition for its people [which can equally apply to any industry]. They’re the experts in their areas of responsibility; and are best placed to find the best answers.”

Sir David went on to comment: “Sustainability must become a key theme for the railways now and in the years to come. Already, the UK rail network has a powerful story to tell on sustainability, as it plays a significant role in developing strong, economically viable communities in a way that no other form of transportation has shown the potential to do.”

CSR started many years ago. Inevitably there was an atmosphere of friction, controversy, doubt but also, great hopes. Recent studies by the BITC suggest there is a growing movement of companies delivering ‘silent good work’ with a great deal of gratitude shown by the local communities benefiting from corporate responsibility. It will take some years for CSR to bed itself into the rail sector. The chief source of problems is the increasing demand to drive costs down. But in my opinion, there has never been a better time to start!

Best practice can be achieved through a set of performance objectives and benchmarks which provides a clear ‘line of sight’ linking individual, team and organisational performance. FranklinCovey refers to this as a ‘clear line of sight to True North’. True North is what the organisation is aiming to achieve – its direction, its plans and strategies.

Chris Leech MBE, senior account manager with BITC, who has 15 years experience in creating CSR strategies for organisations within the rail sector, said: “Our vision is for every business to act responsibly and so ensure a sustainable future for all. I have been tasked by HRH The Prince of Wales and the leadership team at Business in the Community (BITC) to encourage transport organisations from across the UK to promote the excellent work within the CR arena.”

In closing, I’d like to suggest that any company large or small can help to transform communities by tackling key social and environmental issues and in doing so, transform themselves.

The Network Rail view

Katrina Keeling, head of sustainable business strategy, safety and sustainable development, told RTM: “Community investment is absolutely critical for us. We want the communities we serve to benefit from their association with Network Rail, and we always aim to contribute to our local communities as an active, productive partner. A reliable and safe local transport link is just the start. We work with young people, community groups and local government to improve facilities and offer new opportunities for residents.

“Britain’s rail infrastructure is the key to sustaining these communities and we know that our service is of vital importance to both local and national growth.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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