If you stop and think about it, the impact the construction industry has upon society is immense: the built environment that we create influences both the physical and psychological wellbeing of the people who live in and interact with it from birth to death.1 Therefore, developing and maintaining an attitude of positive social responsibility is an industry imperative.

What is social responsibility?

In its simplest form, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is defined as organisations taking responsibility for the impact their activities have on society. An EU Commission document written in 2011 expands on that definition, saying that in order to uphold their responsibility, companies should have a business model that integrates social, environmental, human rights, ethics and core strategies in a way that maximises shared value for stakeholders whilst minimising any adverse effects.2

The International Association of Employers (IOE) defines CSR as any company that voluntarily integrating behaviours and principles into its business model that meet or exceed stakeholder expectations in regards to society and the environment.3 The key in this definition is “voluntarily”. Most CSR activities are unregulated, so it is the companies themselves who must adopt a socially-conscientious work ethic.

CSR and the construction industry

Because the built environment has such a huge and lasting impact upon society well-being, it is imperative that the construction industry adopt an attitude of social responsibility that is integrated into every level of service. Recognising that truth, at a 2005 conference in London, Constructing Excellence (CE) called for the industry not only to actively participate, but to serve as a leader in embracing strong CSR practices. During his address, Rodger Evans, who was CE’s deputy chief executive at that time, said, “The construction industry makes an enormous impact not just for its clients, providing homes and businesses, but on the community within which the buildings are located. CSR is all about recognising the positive impact that construction can have in these communities and optimising the benefits for all stakeholders.” 4

In the decade since CE’s call, CSR has come to be considered an integral part of sustainable building and development, and the uptake of socially responsible activities by the UK construction industry has risen.5 That being said, because so much of CSR is voluntary, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Benefits of adopting a socially responsible mind-set

A CE paper, entitled Corporate Social Responsibility, highlights not only the positive effects of socially-responsible design and building practices but how it can provide long term benefit to the businesses themselves. This includes:

  • Improving both the business’s and the industry’s reputation
  • Minimising risks related to both individual projects and the corporate image as a whole
  • Securing an advantage over competitors by developing good rapport with the community
  • Reducing costs as the result of better relationships with stakeholders and higher morale amongst employees

Best Practice Hub – social responsibility in action

The Best Practice Hub externallinkwas put into place by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS), a national initiative created and managed by the UK construction industry to help improve its image. The hub advises members – who range from site managers to clients – of best practice initiatives. The goal is to help them meet and exceed CCS’s Code of Considerate Practice, a code that outlines the minimal CSR expectations for anyone adopting the scheme.6 This includes:

  • Appearance – site, facilities, and personnel
  • Respect – anyone affected by construction work
  • Environment – protect it, enhance it
  • Safety – minimal risks
  • Value – workforce health and wellbeing

2016 Code of Considerate Practice Checklist

Considerate PracticeTo aid members in meeting the Code of Considerate Practice, CCS provides a checklist, which has recently been updated for 2016. As of 01 February, all sites, companies and suppliers registered with the scheme are monitored from the new checklist, which includes changes to each of the five areas noted above. (The new requirements are reflected on the Hub.) Of particular significance, there is an increased focus valuing the workforce. The 2016 checklist prompts members to ask themselves what are they doing to attract and retain their workforce, including not only rewards, benefits, and best practices, but things like access to qualifications activities, financial advice and counselling.7

Call to action – government and businesses of all sizes

In a 2013 Call to The Department of Business Innovation and Skills externallink, the CIOB stated that they believed the government should serve as champions of the internationally-recognised corporate social responsibility principles and guidelines. They also noted that companies that were already transparent and voluntarily reporting did better financially and had more access to capital. The call included support for SMEs and offered up the Supply Chain Sustainability School externallinkas a good example of how larger organisations can actively support smaller ones. Finally, they stated that while corporate responsibility should be embedded at all levels, it isn’t a profession within itself: “Corporate responsibility should be embedded at all levels and not necessarily categorised into a profession. Corporate responsibility is essentially about finding solutions that benefit society and the company itself; collaboration among interested parties in order to learn from each other; being smart with the finance and resources available; and learning from best practice.” 8

Getting started

In addition to the Hub, the links provided in this article, and the suggested reading, there are a wealth of standards and certifications available to help a company get on the path of demonstrating social responsibility. This includes:

This article has been edited and repurposed from “Social responsibility and the construction industry”, an article written for the Construction Information Service.