Rail Industry Focus

01.07.13

CSR is no longer optional

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2013

Chaired by Chris Williams-Lilley, managing director of Rail Champions, the Platform at Railtex 2013 offered delegates the chance to hear best practice on a range of key topics. RTM’s Kate Ashley reports from the session on sustainability.

At Railtex 2013, rail professionals came to see more than just the latest technology. For many companies, work to improve sustainability and corporate social responsibility is making the difference between winning contracts and losing business.

Speaking at the Platform, a panel session led by Rail Champions, a group of experts discussed the progress towards more sustainable business in rail: Chris Leech, national account manager at Business in the Community (BITC); Richard Graham, head of strategic development at Balfour Beatty Rail; and Paul Ruddick, managing director at construction sector social enterprise REDS10 Ltd.

Small actions, big impact

BITC works to measure and benchmark CSR within industry, and helps companies demonstrate the social and environmental benefits they can bring. Leech described how perceptions of CSR are changing from it being just “a nice, fluffy thing” that businesses might choose to do, to it being an important and vital “responsible business practice”.

This covers how people perceive a brand, and includes community engagement, environmental impact and provision of skills to ensure an organisation’s workforce is futureproof.

He said: “I genuinely think that it touches on every element within the transport sector. Sustainability is now a bit of a buzzword, but we are making very good ground to make sure that you can benchmark and clearly see a return on investment. It’s going to be a very big part of tendering in the very near future.”

Graham said that a sustainable approach was vital in such a huge industry as construction, and that small actions can have a big impact.

He explained: “We can make a difference. Its good for business, it generates profit. That enables you to reinvest in sustainable development, people and the things that are important for the future.”

Leaving a legacy

Impact on communities is also a key consideration, Graham said. “We have to recognise that when we go about these projects, we are doing it in somebody’s back yard.

“It’s about how we conduct ourselves, and how everyone in the business plays a part, so we know at the end of the day we’ve created a positive impact, as opposed to contributing to yet more landfill.”

Ruddick described social sustainability as “very tangible”, with REDS10 Ltd helping local people into apprenticeships on construction and infrastructure projects. “In terms of contracts and procurement, it means that more and more buyers will be asking you about social sustainability.”

The amount of investment in the rail industry offers a key opportunity to make a targeted social and economic impact, he added.

“We’re going to be employing thousands of people, providing thousands of skills, working in communities, creating new infrastructures, which are going to impact on the social and economic growth of those communities. It’s all about how we as an organisation and you as an industry can work together in a collaborative way to make sure that we have a legacy to leave behind.”

The business case

Good CSR can set businesses apart from the competition, the panel agreed. Leech offered the example of the economic downturn, with businesses that had been engaging in CSR recovering “far quicker than businesses that didn’t”.

“That’s a real statement of understanding how to get the most out of your workforce; protecting them and working with them in a loyal way.”

Graham agreed: “It’s no longer optional.” He described how 5% of the scoring in bids for Network Rail is now based around sustainability, requiring specific examples of savings in waste, energy and recycling. Dismissing this percentage as not worth bothering about would lead to missed business opportunities as well as a less sustainable organisation, he said.

“Directors will start losing work because they can’t demonstrate their social impact. As soon as someone starts losing work, they start paying attention. It has massive implications.

“Tier 1s and tier 2s are going to have to have case studies; demonstrate what they are going to do. The Social Value Act is changing the market.”

CSR models must be focused at the level where most people are employed – typically tier 3 in rail. Ruddick said: “You need to work bottomup. The local authorities have wised up to this.

“They can get more bang for their buck, when you start putting tenders out now, they want to know how many local people you are going to employ and why.”

Graham added: “Sustainability can’t stop at our front door, [work has] got to include our complete commercial family, all our suppliers, their labour force and maybe even some of the tier 3s.”

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