• Published on August 20, 2013

By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

We often come across corporations treating CSR as a separate function, assigning a specific budget to being socially responsible and even hiring dedicated personnel to manage it. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it makes me wonder why organisations are not tapping into all of their resources to support their CSR practices.

This leads me to an even bigger question. What are these so called CSR efforts? Is the company strategically invested in supporting its people, planet and profits or is its CSR activity only limited to philanthropic or charitable contributions?

While every company needs to start somewhere, the latter approach tends to give SMEs and start-up owners the impression they cannot be involved in CSR unless they have large sums of money to spend on it. This has certainly been the misconception among many of my industry peers who often dismiss CSR as a “nice-to-have”.

At Summertown Interiors (also an SME!) we can healthily and proudly argue the contrary.  Not only have we been able to implement CSR sustainably and socially responsibly, we’ve ensured that each one of our employees drives this wagon.

So how did we do this? First and foremost, we believe that social responsibility goes way beyond being environmentally friendly or charitable. The word ‘responsibility’ is extremely important here. A company is a good corporate citizen when it continuously works towards improving responsibility on all levels and towards all stakeholders be they customers, partners, employees or the community. It’s not about creating more work, but merely changing the way you do things.

Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our business operations. Last year we started working towards a long-term sustainability goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, but we wanted our community contribution to go beyond environmental savings. So we evolved our SMART Sustainable plan – an annual company-wide programme that maps sustainable goals for each employee against performance – into a wider strategy to incorporate areas other than the environment. Office-greening goals are still a part of this plan but aside from these, every employee is now responsible for achieving broader business and societal objectives and their overall performance heavily takes this into account.

Within the plan we focus on making company processes more sustainable, more comprehensive and healthier for our employees. For example, we’ve reviewed our supplier prequalification process, our onsite health and safety measures and the provision of healthy eating options for staff.

Our approach to new business has also been reviewed in line with our CSR approach. Providing project estimations is a time-intensive process, as our approach is to be completely transparent with our clients and to provide very detailed estimation budgets.  We want our clients to be completely clear on project costs, and what they include and don’t include.  Our preference is to work with clients who also take a transparent approach to business, have now taken the company-wide decision to work with clients that share core values similar to ours. While some may consider this measure somewhat arrogant or even foolhardy, it is one that is already benefitting our business. It has resulted in better utilisation of employee hours, a reduction in staff working overtime, more satisfied employees (as they are working on projects that really utilise their strengths) and increased productivity.

And while we operate in a LEED-certified office, it doesn’t mean we should stop improving on our environmental scorecard. We recently undertook an environmental audit which revealed some startling results. One of these was extremely high water consumption levels despite our low-flow taps and leakage detection systems already in place. We are now working on re-landscaping a particular outdoor area which we estimate will reduce water consumption by 50% for each employee and reduce operational costs by at least AED 15,000 per year.

We’re excited to see this come through and to also find out the results of the complete audit! Watch this space for more updates on this but in the meantime, why not think about the different facets of your business that you didn’t previously associate with CSR and how, by attaching some measurable actions to these, you can bring about a positive change in your business.