CR expert highlights challenge for the design industry

The design industry is facing an ever-growing challenge in terms of the impact of corporate responsibility.

The increasing debate in the industry about what is responsible is forcing design consultancies to take the concept seriously, while many are employing experts in the field to develop their CR offerings.

A joint report on the issue – Taking Shape… The Future of Corporate Responsibility Communications, by Radley Yeldar and corporate social responsibility group Business in the Community – has been launched to help companies understand developments in CR and get more from investing in CR communications. Last year saw the roll-out of global initiatives such as the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and the Global Reporting Initiative, as well as, in the UK, the passing of the Companies Act 2006.

The Taking Shape report looks at these three developments and provides an explanation of the trends behind them. It also investigates the question of integrating financial and non-financial performance.

According to Tom Rotherham, head of corporate responsibility at Radley Yeldar and co-author of the report, the design industry faces ‘live’ issues around recruitment and employee treatment, as well as matters of product packaging and carbon-footprint size.

‘In terms of anything to do with product packaging, there is the Green design issue,’ he says. ‘How much packaging is really necessary? We are moving [this issue] up the design scale. It used to be about how to recycle things once we have used them. Now we need to look at how to recycle each piece, or how the packaging will last longer, or less packaging altogether. There is a lot of focus on getting rid of packaging but consultancies also have a responsibility to get rid of their CO2 footprint. So if you want to ship something around the world, it is better to change from plane to boat for the carbon footprint reduction – in this case it would need more packaging, but it would be more important to reduce the carbon footprint. They need to look at the bigger picture.’

With regards to branding, Rotherham believes that companies can’t just ‘fluff things up to say they are being Greener than they are – people understand what to look for, you have to live up to what you say’, he adds. ‘There is a lot of competition in the industry about what is responsible, and that is positive, it gets people thinking creatively about how it can help improve each company.’

The report tackles the concept of materialism. It explains that, as CR evolves, our understanding of how businesses impact on society changes, and the role of business in society also changes. This means there is a need for companies to be aware of what is driving change, and the trends and initiatives that will impact their bottom line.

BITC senior corporate responsibility reporting manager Katherine Sharp says, ‘CR is very open to interpretation. The report shows that, as companies understand how to incorporate CR into their own areas, better communications need to happen. Marks & Spencer is a good example. It has carried out solid work talking to stakeholders about sustainability’.

The report – Taking Shape… The Future of Corporate Responsibility Communications – identifies three trends in corporate responsibility that are common to all companies and which will have an impact on CR communication programmes:
• Materiality
• Stakeholder engagement
• Integration of financial and non-financial performance

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