What does being a responsible business mean?

Abi Robins

By Abi Robins
Director of Responsible Business

Abi Robins, Director of Responsible Business, talks about integrating a broad range of responsible business practices with strategic management and corporate governance to maximise positive social and environmental impact.

It was great to see responsible business being celebrated last week during Responsible Business Week (23-27 April 2018), but what does being a responsible business mean?

I always find it helpful to remember that it’s not a new concept, though its meaning has changed over time. Being a responsible business in the 19th century for example, was all about working conditions and corporate philanthropy. Leaders like Robert Owen at the New Lanark Mill tackled child labour, reduced working hours and set up schools to educate employees’ families, while the Cadbury brothers built decent housing for workers at affordable rates and introduced sick pay alongside pensions. While many of the issues being addressed by these pioneers remain important today, leading organisations now focus on fully integrating a broad range of responsible business practices with strategic management and corporate governance, to maximise positive social and environmental impact.

Last week we heard some fantastic examples from businesses big and small who are doing just that. But being a responsible business needs continued effort, which is why Responsible Business Week is a great time to reflect on these achievements as well as some of the challenges.

There has been much analysis of the collapse of Carillion, who were well-recognised for the range of community programmes and CSR initiatives they ran. This is a reminder that the traditional model of CSR which emerged in the late twentieth century, focusing solely on community investment, is no substitute for truly embedding responsible business across the entire organisation.  The call for this continues to get stronger, with customers, employees, governments and investors advocating for businesses to operate in the interests of society by refocusing on how they generate their profit. And doing this makes good business sense; delivering improved outcomes for customers and wider society can also improve reputation, resilience and lead to long-term sustainable business success.

Following our strategic review in 2015, Centrica has moved away from being an asset-based business to a customer-facing energy and services company. This strategic shift reinforces our commitment to being a responsible business, and as Centrica’s Director of Responsible Business, this makes it an exciting time to be focused on this area. We have refocused our resources and capabilities to deliver for the changing needs of our customers while reducing our direct carbon emissions.

While there’s always more we can do, I’m proud of the progress we are making across our focus areas: caring for our customers, being an employer of choice, enabling the low carbon transition and building stronger communities. We feel these are the areas where we can have the biggest impact and make the most meaningful difference.

Some of our achievements in 2017 include:
• 1.6m Connected Home products sold to make customers lives simpler and smarter
• 21,000 employees have become Dementia Friends, strengthening our support for those living with the condition  
• 31m tonnes of customer carbon emissions saved from products installed since 2008 – equivalent to the annual emissions of around 9 million UK homes
• Continued growth of our employee-led networks, for example more than 1,000 members of our employee-led Carers Network, providing a vital source of support and feedback to ensure employees can better balance work with caring responsibilities by shaping our policy on carers 

View our Sustainability section for further information

We are continuing to work towards making a difference in these areas in 2018 and it’s been great to see so many examples of other organisations doing the same. I’d love to hear what being a responsible business means to you.