True business sustainability is not necessarily about being independent. Business sustainability and stability can be fostered through the practice of collaboration and engagement; building relationships to develop a support network to ensure your firm is reputable, well-connected, well-regarded and can call on support when needed.

Corporate social responsibility, cross-sector engagement through sharing best practice and lessons learned, public debate and policy development, investing in development of future leaders, and workforce diversity are some of the activities which can ensure the sustainability of your firm into the future.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Defining CSR

“Social responsibility is the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that:

  • Contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of society;
  • Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders;
  • Is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and
  • Is integrated throughout the organisation and practised in its relationships.”

Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR) 2012, Defining Corporate Social Responsibility, last accessed 27 March 2013

To achieve a greater level of holistic sustainability, many professional services firms are involved in CSR initiatives and programs which provide assistance to communities and people in need. CSR is a self-regulated process, increasingly found to be integrated into business models and corporate strategies as stakeholder pressure mounts, and its bottom-line benefit becomes more widely noted.

The World Business Council on Sustainable Development says, “Sustainable development involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a single, financial bottom line but against the triple bottom line.”1 This is in essence, the idea underpinning CSR activities.

Highly promoted, and often reported on in conjunction with annual reports, the strategies across sectors and industries are varied. More often than not CSR strategies draw upon the skills and expertise within the firm, organisation or association.

Professional services firms are in a unique position to positively influence their clients, by providing advice that is consistent with and promotes sustainability and corporate social responsibility, as well as helping clients to implement procurement policies and screen suppliers according to their sustainability credentials. Professional services firms can also influence business and the supply chain by demonstrating best practice by implementing sustainability and corporate social responsibility in their own organisations, and influencing their own supply chains e.g. through rules about the procurement of office supplies, or catering.

Cross-sector engagement through best practice sharing

The availability and accessibility of information between the professional services sector to industry, academia, government and community is vital for the transfer of best practice and knowledge. Collaboration is facilitated by increased dialogue and the sharing of experiences and it is through conversations such as these that cross-sector relationships are born. Examples of collaboration might include:

  • Consultancy work,
  • In-kind support,
  • Co-branding of initiatives,
  • (Re)development of academic courses,
  • Guest university lecturers, and
  • Seminars or conferences.

Public debate and policy development

A strong media profile is a key component of any external affairs strategy and can be of great benefit to professional services firms. The broader commercial benefits of such a strategy are too often overlooked through risk adverse decision making and a preference to maintain a lower public profile.

This is an area of great focus in some industries and completely overlooked in others.

Those firms that contribute to public debate and policy development and build constructive relationships with governments and other bodies will have stronger reputation management, and have the ability to ensure their operating environment is aligned to business strategy and need.

1 Sustainable Measures 2010, ‘Definitions of sustainability and sustainable development’, Sustainable Measures, last accessed 28 March 2013

Attitudes toward government

Following a number of comprehensive surveys, in 2009 and 2011 McKinsey and Company identified five categories of respondents reporting on their different attitudes toward government. These included: opportunists and partners (believe policy and regulation generate new business opportunities or provide broader business benefits); avoiders and reluctant engagers; and adversaries (taking a more negative view).

‘A quarter of respondents to this survey fall in to the opportunist group, and 23 per cent are partners […]. Still this leaves us with more than half of respondents who are more negative than positive about government’s role in their business.’

Dua, A., Nuttall R., and Wilkins, J. 2011, ‘Why good companies create bad regulatory strategies’, McKinsey Quarterly, last accessed 11 July 2013

Development of future leaders

For professional services firms, whose dominant capital sits within people, the development of those leaders who will progress through the ranks is critical to ensuring the long-term health of the firm. By supporting not only the future leader within your firm, but in the market generally, you are supporting the health of the wider industry.

There is a variety of methods through which you can support your young staff. Smaller firms may make use of existing forums, groups and resources, and some larger firms look to bring together their emerging young professionals from across the globe. Examples include:

  • Mentor/mentee relationships,
  • Professional exchange programs,
  • Education in soft skills as well as technical courses,
  • Client relationship training,
  • Informal learning and networking programs,
  • Professional accreditation, and
  • Young professional network within the firm or within the broader industry.

Focusing on the future leaders of the industry creates not only a stronger industry broadly, but also a stronger more talented pool of graduates and potential employees who recognise firm contributions in this space.

Consult Australia’s FutureNet

futureNet

FutureNet is a proud initiative of Consult Australia. It aims to assist young professionals associated with the built environment to develop business skills and professional contacts to equip them to become future leaders. Young professionals who would get direct benefit from FutureNet events would include, but are not limited to engineers, architects, construction professionals, lawyers, and property developers.

Workforce diversity and inclusion

There are many definitions of diversity, but most simply it refers to all of the characteristics that make individuals different from each other.

In the workplace, inclusiveness is the important process of moving past a ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach to diversity to one that acknowledges the different strengths that individuals bring to work, and harnessing them to ensure they meet their true potential.

Long-term business success will be achieved by building inclusive working environments where everyone is engaged, valued and empowered to succeed. This delivers two main benefits: employee retention and productivity.

In the professional services industry, the retention of valued workers and the ability to attract new ones is essential for achieving a competitive advantage. To do this, employers must understand the needs of individuals and work hard to keep them motivated, engaged and feeling valued, and therefore at less risk of moving to competitor firms or other industries.

From a productivity perspective, a more diverse talent pool increases opportunities for new approaches to projects and decision-making.

Success for a professional services firm is, after all, reliant on its most important resource – its people.

 

 “Industry partnerships and collaborations with academia leads to much needed research with practical and sustainable outcomes.”

 University of Sydney – Honorary Associate and Consult Australia Sustainability Roundtable Chair, Ashak Nathwani 

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Corporate social responsibility CSR is a self-regulated process, increasingly found to be integrated into business models and corporate strategies. With its high profile and media attention, it is often reported on in conjunction with annual reports. More often than not CSR strategies draw upon the skills and expertise within the firm.
  • Have we established mutually beneficial strategic partnerships with charitable organisations that foster active staff participation (pro-bono work, volunteering etc.?
  • Have we identified opportunities for strategic community investment?
  • Do we provide employees with opportunities to volunteer?
  • When is it suitable for staff to be out of the office?
  • How will this time be managed?
  • Have we attempted to identify opportunities to work in partnership with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and government?
Social responsibility in relation to other stakeholders Professional services firms have a relatively unique opportunity to influence the behaviours and processes of their various business partners, clients and supply chains.
  • Have we reviewed and audited our supply chain and other networks?
  • Have we considered the reputational risk associated with clients and suppliers who engage in un-sustainable practices?
  • Can you share best practice with your clients and suppliers?
  • Are there opportunities to educate these networks?
  • Do you need to consider a policy to manage poor behaviour clients or suppliers?
Social sustainability policies and procedures Social sustainability is a positive condition created by particular social institutions and policies. Social sustainability includes: equity of access to key services; equity between generations; equity within generations; and a system where cultures are valued and protected.
  • Do we operate in jurisdictions where social issues such as fair labour practices, corruption, or respect for basic human rights can be an issue?
  • Have we considered these issues as they impact on our supply chain or our clients?
Cross-sector engagement through best practice sharing Through collaboration with industry and other sectors, information and best practice can be shared and the sustainability agenda can be advanced. As a business it is important to consider not only what you can give to a partnership, but also to what you can receive in return and learn.
  • What other sectors could we help and what other sectors could help our firm?
  • Are we active within our industry and/or professional associations?
  • Have we shared best practice through case studies and peer networking?
  • Have we contributed to research and policy formulation in a way that captures our unique expertise?
  • Have we actively engaged in public debate on sustainability issues and the regulatory response?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Community acceptance and ‘Social Licence to Operate’ Connecting with communities where our activities might impact. Ensuring that all our activities build our image as responsible corporate citizens
  • Are all of our operations accepted by the community as adding to their wellbeing?
  • Can we easily identify social and environmental value (public good) from our activities?
  • Are our sponsorships contributing to societal wellbeing and not encouraging environmental damage?
  • Do we have a Reconciliation Action Plan?
  • Have we sought ‘permission’ from indigenous communities where our activities might impact?
  • Can our ‘social licence to operate’ be improved by enhancing our firm’s sustainability and communicating this?
Ongoing partnerships Developing partnerships with other firms, organisations and within the not-for-profit sector assists in the sharing of best practice and the enhancement of your firm’s own operations, reputation and effectiveness.
  • Have we worked with a range of stakeholders?
  • Have we planned ongoing meetings through which our relationship can continue to develop?
  • How do we best engage in the public debate on sustainability to develop, apply and promote best practice across industry and sectors?
  • Have we considered the value of engagement with stakeholders and communities?
Public debate and policy development Operating environments have the ability to support businesses, and also the power to derail them. There can be significant benefits for those who contribute to public debate and policy development.
  • What is our current level of engagement (or otherwise) in public debate and policy development?
  • If we do not engage, why?
  • Is this reasoning still relevant or would we benefit from developing relationships with government and industry policy makers or politicians?
  • In what areas would we be best placed to engage?
  • Do we need to form a government relations team, or can this be effectively run through individual staff?
Develop future industry leaders Focusing on the future leaders of the industry creates not only a stronger industry broadly, but also a stronger more talented pool of graduates and potential employees who recognise firm contributions in this space.
  • Are we best positioned to engage with schools, universities or other educational institutions?
  • Have we encouraged research students to develop through industry placements?
  • Where are the future leaders in our community and how are we positioned to help them?
Workforce diversity and inclusion There are many definitions of diversity, but most simply it refers to all of the characteristics that make individuals different from each other. Long-term business success will be achieved by building inclusive working environments where everyone is engaged, valued and empowered to succeed.
  • How diverse is our workforce?
  • How do we track change?
  • Is the company leadership committed?
  • Do staff know why this is important?
  • Do we understand the impact of unconscious bias?
  • Have team leaders been given the tools to manage staff with a diversity of abilities and needs?