Sustainability is a win-win for companies and the community

This sponsored article appeared in the 'Make A Difference' supplement in the Irish Independent on 5 December 2018.

When it comes to sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility (CSR), it's no longer enough for companies to simply 'abide by the rules' or engage in isolated acts of philanthropy, says Marian Troy, Head of Corporate Affairs at energy company, SSE Ireland.

That approach to corporate sustainability might have impressed customers and communities in the past, but now they are — rightly — demanding more. These days, organisations have to continually demonstrate what they are doing to be ethical, responsible and balanced. What's more, any company that views sustainability as a box-ticking exercise is bound to fail, because the real-life stakes are just too high. “We have to do all we can to help achieve economic, social and environmental wellbeing for current and future generations,” says Troy.

Win-win for employee-led programmes

It’s clear that SSE is taking its commitment to operating sustainability seriously, striving to set industry-leading standards. The company has achieved Business in the Community Ireland’s (BITCI) Business Working Responsibly Mark — the gold standard in CSR — and is also an accredited Living Wage employer.

Yet, as lovingly crafted as a sustainability strategy might be, it's no good if the people in an organisation aren't behind it. Employee-led programmes are important in this regard because they get staff motivated. SSE allows its team members to take at least one day a year away from their job to volunteer for a charity or community group of their choice. It's an idea that's been a big success, with up to 85% of employees taking part in a given year.

Programmes such as these can be beneficial in many different ways, notes Mia McCarthy, Head of Sustainability at SSE Ireland. “As well as being a fantastic opportunity to make a positive difference for our communities, they give people a chance to network and strengthen relationships with colleagues from other parts of the company,” she says. It's a win-win, in other words.

Meeting environmental challenges

Then, of course, the public wants to understand how companies are responding to today's environmental challenges. To that end, SSE has launched a campaign to encourage its customers to make small everyday choices that can make a big difference to the environment. Plus, for the last 10 years, it has contributed over €7 million to more than 2,500 community initiatives close to its 29 onshore wind farms in rural Ireland, supporting a range of energy-efficiency and social sustainability projects.

The company now wants to focus on the development of Ireland’s offshore wind resource, explains Stephen Wheeler, Managing Director of SSE Ireland. “In addition to making the single biggest impact to Ireland’s climate action and renewable energy targets, the development of offshore wind projects can reinvigorate coastal communities and create sustainable local jobs,” he says.

The time for talking is over. Businesses have to step up and prove they are serious about sustainability.