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Global perspectives on responsibility

Four in 10 employees in 24 countries say it is “very important” for their own employers to be “responsible to society and the environment”. Of the 18,150 adults interviewed by polling company Ipsos, 25% said local community investment was a top priority for firms. The issue just beat respecting local laws (24%). Nearly two-thirds of respondents “strongly agree” that companies should be doing more to protect the environment and 52% that companies should contribute to society. The vast majority of workers think it is either “very important” or “fairly important” that their employer is responsible.

The findings reveal a distinction between concerns in developed countries and those in developing countries. Workers in the latter feel companies should be contributing more to society. The top countries holding this position, for example, are Turkey, where 85% give this response, Brazil (78%), Saudi Arabia (78%) and Mexico (76%). In contrast, the majority of those in Japan (78%), US (67%), UK (66%) and Australia (66%) feel companies are doing enough.

£100bn prize for better business

UK business could secure £100bn in annual productivity gains generated by innovations designed to address environmental and social challenges, according to a new report, Fortune Favours the Brave. The biggest win is around resource efficiency. Companies can generate annual savings of £61bn by scaling resource efficiency and energy efficiency initiatives, as well as through the use of cleaner technologies, the report finds.

Another money spinner is the so-called “closed loop” process. This approach, which centres on reusing and recycling raw materials in products, could land UK consumer goods firms with annual savings of between £15bn and £18bn. The report, which was published by Accenture, Business in the Community and Marks & Spencer, notes that the UK market for clean technology and circular economy services has grown an estimated 24% and 18%, respectively, over the past five years.

Workplace improvements pay off fast

Capital investment targeted at improving working conditions can pay off within four to 20 months, according to a new report by financial services firm KPMG. The report, which is based on data from 70 factories and 99 academic studies, also identifies margin improvements of up to 0.4% in profitability – a significant figure given that net margins are typically 1%-2%.

The report cites a previously published regression analysis that shows how introducing a package of workplace interventions can reduce staff turnover by 40%. Similar research shows that a “bad boss” increases staff turnover by 25%.

UK corporate donors list

The UK’s largest companies gave about £600m (£470m in actual cash, with the remainder “in kind”) to UK charities and community organisations in 2012, a drop of 27% on 2011. The figures, which are based on the Directory of Social Change’s analysis of the country’s top 418 corporate givers, indicate that corporate donations make up about 2% of the voluntary sector’s total income (with the public and statutory source accounting for 43% and 37%, respectively). Total company giving in the UK is put at between £700m and £800m. As a percentage of pre-tax profits, the average charitable spend of the UK’s largest corporate givers is 0.4% (or 0.3% in terms of cash only) – well below the 1% generally taken as a touchstone percentage.

The generosity of UK plc is far from balanced, with 90% of cash donations made by 20% of companies. Likewise, the geographical spread is skewed. Companies tend to give disproportionately to their local areas, with southern regions therefore benefiting much more than their northern peers (where fewer businesses are based, but where social problems are greater). For example, the West Midlands only received 1% of total corporate giving, despite 21.4% of the area experiencing income deprivation. In contrast, Greater London attracted 33% of total corporate giving, although income deprivation affects only 17.7% of the UK capital.

Organisation snapshots

Real estate emissions

Buildings account for 41% of primary energy consumption in the US, more than the transport (29%) or industrial (30%) sectors, according to a new case study report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Goals set at the federal and state levels, such as Better Buildings (federal) or New York State’s Build Smart initiatives, aim to increase energy efficiency by 20% by 2020. Based on interviews with 423 building sector executives, the research finds that more than half (56%) of respondents expect to recover the investment costs of green retrofits on commercial properties within three years.

EU consumer labelling

The European commission has set out to improve environmental labelling over recent years, but considerable work remains to be done to convince the public. Only 52% of consumers trust producers’ on-package claims with respect to products’ green performance, a new study finds.

The percentage is even lower (46%) for those who trust internal reports about companies’ environmental performance. Belief in the veracity of eco-labels is highest in Portugal (84%), Malta (82%) and France (81%), and lowest in Germany (44%), Romania (46%) and the Netherlands (47%).

Despite widespread scepticism, the European commission’s study of more than 25,500 EU citizens found that more than three-quarters of Europeans are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. That said, only 55% say they feel informed about the environmental impacts of the products that they buy and use. The commission issued a Communication on Building the Single Market for Green Products in April 2013.

Food insecurity

The number of food-insecure people is expected to remain more or less stable in 2013, at 707 million, increasing only three million on 2012’s figure, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture. The study estimates that 20% of the population in its sample of 76 low- and medium-income nations will suffer food insecurity in 2013. That number jumps to 29% in sub-Saharan Africa, increasing to 34% in 2023. Asia accounts for 22 of the 76 countries studied, but nearly two-thirds of the sample’s overall population and 57% of the total food insecure population.

According to the World Bank, the world will need to produce 70% more food for the planet’s growing population by 2050. Demand for global agricultural imports is pushing up prices. The three highest gains on the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food prices index since 1992 have occurred within the past five years. Countries are expected to spend $1,094bn buying food in 2013, up fractionally from $1,092bn in 2012.

Company insights

Facebook’s footprint

Posting messages and uploading photos onto the social media site Facebook results in about 3.5kg of CO2 emissions per user per year, according to new data from the California-based firm. Facebook says the carbon impact of each of its 1.1 billion or so users equates to the emissions produced by drinking one latte coffee per month.

Across all its operations, Facebook’s total energy use from office space, data centres and other facilities reached about 704m kWh in 2012, up from 532m kWh in 2011. Its energy use for 2012 represents 384,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions in 2012. Facebook uses clean and renewable energy for 19% of its energy needs, down from 23% in 2011 and below its 25% target for 2015. Coal (34%), natural gas (22%), nuclear (22%) and uncategorised power bought on the spot market (10%) make up the remainder of its energy supply.

GE raises research spend

Last year, GE invested nearly $2bn in research and development for sustainability innovation, and generated some $25bn in revenue, according to the company’s 2012 Our Global Impact update. The lion’s share of the R&D spend went on the company’s “ecomagination” technologies.

GE is committed to invest $10bn on its ecomagination programme between 2010 and 2015. The US firm also reports a 32% improvement in energy intensity (measured as energy/$ revenue) since its baseline year in 2004, and a 46% reduction in freshwater use since its 2006 baseline. Its employees’ charitable contributions in 2012 amounted to $219m overall.

Dell weighs in on packaging

Dell has succeeded in making 76.1% of its desktop and notebook packaging material compostable or recyclable, up from 53% two years ago. Among the recent innovations developed by the IT firm is a novel bioscience method that uses mushrooms in product packaging. The sustainability component of its cushioning and corrugated packaging, meanwhile, currently stands at 42%. Dell also announced in its recent annual corporate responsibility report that it has reached its goal – set in 2008 – of collecting one billion pounds (450,000 kg) of e-waste. The US firm currently recycles or reuses 96% of all waste. Of the 859.1m kWh total energy that Dell uses annually, 22.6% is classified as “green”.

Corporate Responsibility Research  CR Cheat Sheet  CR Stats  CSR Cheat Sheet  Oliver Balch 

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