C&W Perspectives

When CSR is undertaken with genuine belief, passion, energy and vision, the experience – for both corporate and charity – can be fantastic 25% between 2013 and 2016 Moreover, in the 8 years from 2009 to 2016, aggregate revenues of FTSE 100 companies rose by 14%, while charitable donations rose by only 1% over the same period (source: FT.com, 2018). This may sound disheartening at first glance, but the same research also identified that when asked, CBI members “were increasingly investing in sustainable partnerships that involve not just money and goods, but expertise and time too”. In a “cash rich, time poor” era, the fact that there is a move towards us being more physically involved in giving is, as I see it, a positive step. Also, while it might be anecdotal evidence, it is clear to me that businesses are much more supportive of the charitable and community activity of its employees. The number of work email requests for sponsorship has surely increased in recent years. More concrete evidence exists here at C&W, where setting and measuring community outreach objectives has become a recognised feature. Is Real Estate doing its bit? It seems to me that while the industry you are in tends to determine the set of cards you are dealt, the responsibility in CSR is in the way that you play them. (Oil companies can act responsibly too!) Whether it’s a reflection of the fact that the built environment is so intrinsic to a community, or whether it’s because buildings consume so much energy, it is clear to me that real estate professionals have a sense of responsibility. You don’t have to look too hard at the UK property sector to see charitable activity in abundance. In fact, we even have our own charity, LandAid, set up over 30 years ago specifically to help “to end youth homelessness”. Following a recent charitable event, and knowing that I was going to put pen to paper about this topic, I was keen to find out from the charities involved about their experience of CSR activity. I was comforted to learn that for them, when CSR is undertaken with genuine energy and vision, the impact on both the corporate and charity’s objectives can be fantastic. Of course, it’s easy for the sceptics to cite CSR as a thinly veiled means for corporates to compensate for more commercial aspects of their business. But the responses from these charities support the idea that CSR is moving beyond its initial focus on people and society and moving towards a more holistic view that includes the notion of sustainable profit-making too. The CSR challenge When done well, the benefits of CSR can include increased employee morale and wellbeing, enhanced client loyalty and positive brand profile, alongside the various potential upsides to the other stakeholders / charities. However, a number of these outcomes are hard to measure; and even if businesses do employ a discrete set of CSR measures, profit performance is inevitably easier to quantify, thereby creating an imbalance. The New Lanark story also provides an insight into how this might challenge the CSR approach. Robert Owen was quite rightly lauded for his efforts in improving living standards for mill workers, but was also met with accusations of self-promotion and wastefulness by his business partners at the time. Time will tell whether the property sector can fully realise the ‘win-win’ scenario of CSR. Thankfully, as with other industries, reputation is recognised by all stakeholders as a priceless commodity; it is hard won and so quickly lost through any lack of responsible behaviour. PERSPECTIVES 26 OPINION