Social Responsibility Now a Pillar for BusinessTue, 11/01/2016 - 15:51
Social responsibility has become a pillar for doing business around the world. Businesses increasingly are conscious about the negative impact their operations can have on the surrounding environment and are taking concrete steps to optimize the positive while minimizing harm. Engagement in these practices is widely accepted in several sectors. The infrastructure industry, however, is lagging. “Construction companies urgently need to generate formulas for promoting highly sustainable projects that reuse materials and use a minimal amount of energy,” says Eloy Rodríguez, the Executive President of Acción Social Empresarial (ACCSE).
Social responsibility began as an act of voluntary goodwill but it snuck its way into several companies’ business strategies, says Rodríguez. “The concept was created after companies started to realize the harmful impact they were causing in the environmental and social spheres of their projects,” he says. “Over the last 10 years, the concept has gained an extra boost as businesses realized it could bring added value to their assets, actions and marketing campaigns.” Rodríguez believes that companies do not have to be officially labeled as socially responsible but they must go above and beyond their legal obligations because it is not enough to simply comply with regulations.
The destruction of a mangrove in Cancun at the beginning of 2016 only exacerbated the negative perception that hangs over the industry. “Businesses once could easily sway communities with economic contributions but they have overplayed that card and it is now frowned upon,” says Rodríguez. “Construction companies must now prioritize dialogue and communication with surrounding communities and authorities.”
In any socially responsible construction plan, the promotion of community dialogue to share the idea of the project should always be the first step, Rodríguez says. “A company cannot randomly insert a massive infrastructure real estate project without establishing agreements with interested parties,” he says. “When communication is prioritized communities can be surprisingly welcoming toward well-planned and sustainable projects, particularly when they are directed to the improvement of the local economy.”
One problem often faced in construction projects is directly related to the impatience of developers. When local groups are left out of negotiations, developers put themselves at risk of community takeovers. “In Mexico, it has become a relatively common practice for ejiditarios to halt construction when they feel pushed aside, causing the company to lose a great deal of capital,” says Rodríguez. “For construction companies, the only way to ensure credibility and profit is to reach out to local communities to gain their approval.”
It is not just the health of physical spaces that is a concern. Gender inequity and informal labor are also topics that need to be addressed. “Construction companies that do not prioritize the issue of non-qualified employees, child labor and work conditions that guarantee basic rights harm the industry and its image,” says Rodríguez. Socially responsible companies are also taking it upon themselves to ensure those they work with are on the same page. Large companies, especially multinationals such as supermarkets, will audit their suppliers to evaluate if they meet the minimum requirements of environmental and social standards. Evaluations are quickly becoming an industrial standard and the market is turning more responsible thanks to these practices, Rodríguez says.
The public sector must also do its part. “The government plays an important role in promoting social consciousness through incentives that make businesses equal, safer and more ecological,” says Rodríguez. “Incentives are always more efficient than regulations as they foster a true sense of social responsibility.”
Rodríguez says that if industries continue to consume natural resources at the present pace, by 2030 they would need 2.5 planets to satisfy the demand. But if the advantages of adopting sustainable practices are attractive enough, he says, companies and communities can reap the harvest for the long term.