Wednesday 24 February 2016,

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about doing the right thing and being mindful of the world around. It was only fitting that we had two CSR experts share their views on how to do the right thing . . . and get it right.

At the Forum we were joined by Sandy Macdonald, Head of Sustainability at Standard Life and Martin Darroch, Chief Executive at Harper Macleod. After hearing both presentations it was clear that there’s not a prescriptive approach and CSR will have a different meaning in each organisation, but it’s this difference which can breed opportunity!

CSR can deliver many commercial benefits in the form of press coverage, increasing staff engagement and attracting top talent. It’s also becoming more common in the procurement process to demonstrate CSR credentials as a competitive advantage. With all of this in mind, do you think your CSR strategy is truly integrated throughout your business?

It’s worth noting that the ‘S’ in CSR could be interchangeable for ‘social’ or ‘sustainable’, but perhaps we should all be using ‘sustainable’ because it alludes to a longer-term objective. Shouldn’t that be a goal for all CSR strategies?

Know your ‘why’

A good CSR strategy with long-term objectives should stem from the purpose of the business. For example, Standard Life, a long-term savings and investment business, considers the impact they can have on employment, local communities and even their own investments. Their sustainability strategy is based on key trends, risks and opportunities identified through research, insight and engagement with stakeholders.

Sandy’s top tips for CSR were as follows:

  1. Know the purpose of your business
  2. Get interest from the business
  3. Continuous learning and development

He highlighted the importance of developing a clear communications strategy to be transparent, and engage internally and externally. Internal communications need to be a two-way process (top-down and down-up). Listening to your colleagues and speaking to them as ‘individuals’ is a critical success factor. If the strategy reflects their interests, they are much more likely to want to be a CSR ambassador. Think about what’s in it for them? Further to this, Sandy suggested that you ‘tell a human story’ when talking about CSR, not an academic or corporate one. If people can relate then it will build emotional engagement.

Engage, engage, engage

Harper Macleod’s commitment to CSR was recognised at the Scottish Business Awards in 2015 where they won the Corporate Social Responsibility Award. Martin’s advice is to “engage, engage, engage” and create opportunities for colleagues to contribute ideas. They achieve this through regular internal communications and by having CSR representatives at all levels of the organisation. For CSR to be embraced by staff it needs to be at the centre of the business’ purpose, culture and processes. Martin spoke about their own supply chain and how they try to use local suppliers where possible to reduce carbon footprint.

As with any business strategy, CSR needs to be monitored and reviewed. Are contributions delivering value to the community as a whole? Martin said “if you’re not measuring it, then you’re not valuing it”.


CSR needs to be aligned to the purpose of the business and only then can you understand the positive impact that your business can have. Behind every good CSR strategy is a clear communications strategy, one which engages both internal and external stakeholders. If you get CSR right then your business can reap the commercial benefits. Ultimately, a more successful business can only be a good thing for the local community.

Sarah Rodger,
PM Forum Scotland Committee

(Views are my own)