I wanted to congratulate Business in the Community for choosing to host the ‘New Era of Responsibilty Conference 2009” at a venue with genuine cultural value, off the beaten corporate track away from the banal event mausoleums usually reserved for conferences. That was before I had to battle through 5 hours of rail problems underlined in true metropolitan style with the chaos that is a Tube strike. I arrived late, but not the last which is always a heartening achievement, and tip-toed between the snugly packed tables into the very end of the debate entitled “CSR: Overhead or Value Creator?” It must have been great as the audience responded well. Wish I knew why. More events outside London please.
Highlights of the show for me are as follows:
Marks & Spencer were enjoying the bragging rights that ‘Plan A’ was cost positive and their CEO had been telling staff to “Do more. Do it faster, and shout louder!” What incredibly bold words for a retailer to describe its sustainability programme at the bottom of a recession?
Pharmaceutical company, Glaxo Smith Kline were my stars of the show with building trust being one of five main strategic targets. This is in part to be implemented through their General Manager Trust Framework used as a differentiator in overseas country’s to create vale and their approach to responsible downsizing. GSK’s strategy for this is to ensure the building of trust, professional announcement of negative news, thorough employee support (new training, CV help and recruitment partners, etc) and ensuring real pride in the site at all times. GSK also spent a fair amount of time describing their increased openess to intellectual property for the greater good.
Diageo the owner of Guinness and many other drink brands were quietly proud of their new carbon neutral brewery (should that be carbonated neutral?) whilst at the same time understanding that the Guinness consumers in particular are not huge environmentalists but associate much more closely to the philanthropic end of the CSR scale as a consequence of the incredible 250 years of good deeds directed by Arthur Guinness himself with his concern for his employees and the communities around his sites. Happy 250th Birthday Guinness!
Business in the Community also used the event as a platform to announce in conjunction with the Financial Times the results of this year’s CR Index.
The afternoon session focused on the next decade for CSR and was dominated by words such as agility, flexibility, technology, innovation and of course climate change. Cadbury’s flush with their recent cocoa partnership with Fairtrade were keen to reinforce the position of trust as a competitive advantage.
“Good CSR performance = Trust = Cost efficiencies and easier sell.”
Vince Cable MP was due to deliver the keynote speech to conclude the conference but due to an emergency trip to hospital with appendicitis and was replaced by Susan Kramer MP. As an ex-banker of Warren Buffet no less, her authority within the financial world is impressive. To misuse Social Corporate Responsibility on numerous occasions though was almost embarrassing and definitely disconcerting.
British American Tobacco ironically summarised the day well with the quote “If you have trust don’t lose it”, which could well have been the understatement of the day coming from the tobacco industry.