The importance of corporate social responsibility in the construction industry

As an industry, we have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all of our employees

Author: Tim Fry

27 June 2019

Social responsibility is an ethical framework that suggests an organisation or an individual has an obligation to make a positive impact on society and the environment. Some critics argue that corporate social responsibility (CSR) distracts from the fundamental economic role of business and is nothing more than superficial window-dressing. I don't agree – and, more importantly, neither do many of our clients.

At a recent presentation I attended, the elected mayor of a London Borough stated that firms who want to do work for council must demonstrate their CSR credentials through their actions and not just point to their policy document.

I greatly respect the mayor for emphasising this point and showing herself to be someone who takes her social responsibilities seriously, and is striving to make a difference. In terms of highlighting the value of CSR, this support and leverage from those in positions of power is a significant step in the right direction.

The presentation prompted me to reflect on how the firm I work for could improve its CSR strategy. Some ideas we could look at implementing include:

  • taking part in Age UK initiatives, such as clearing an older person's garden or phoning once a week for a chat
  • working with other firms involved in a project to plant and maintain a hospital healing garden
  • speaking in local schools
  • engaging with black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups to deliver diversity and inclusion training and events
  • reaching out to armed forces veterans and offering work experience.

Another firm I know offers work experience to veterans as part of its CSR strategy and came across a Royal Engineers' captain who was keen to transition into project management. When I heard about this we approached him to join Currie & Brown, where he is now gaining accolades for his work.

This type of cross-collaboration between the CSR strategies of different businesses is very important – and can also be a signficant step in helping the industry to unlock enormous potential.

I've shared the previous examples in the hope that it will encourage you, as a reader, to consider what your business is doing, or could do, to give back. Please do reach out to the journal and let us know of any examples. The more we share good practice, the more we drive standards in the construction industry, and the more we become social partners and enablers of success challenging any preconceptions that exist about the industry.

As an industry, we also have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all of our employees. The construction industry should be thinking above and beyond current legislation, and taking health and safety seriously to mitigate any employee risk.

Within two hours of starting my career in construction, I saw two roofers killed when an overloaded scaffold collapsed, taking them with it. Running unsafe sites and turning a blind eye to unsafe practices can only end badly.

The appalling tragedy at Grenfell Tower has provided us with many lessons, and our industry has a responsibility to learn from them and ensure it never happens again.

It could have been any of us or our loved ones in that building; until the necessary regulations are developed and in place, we could all still be at risk. Our fellow citizens rely on us to build and develop safe places to live and work, and as built environment professionals we need to ensure we act with our wider moral and social responsibilities in mind.

The philosopher author and goalkeeper Albert Camus was thought to have said: 'What I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football.' His words are as relevant to our industry as they are to the beautiful game: we all have obligations and responsibilities to our teammates, the coaches, the fans and even our opponents. Like football, our industry is a mutually dependent ecosystem: show up for your teammates and they'll show up for you.

Tim Fry is a senior director at Currie & Brown and member of the RICS Construction Journal editorial advisory group

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