Building the CSR agenda at BT

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are gaining traction across the globe. Craig Donaldson speaks with Janet Blake, head of global CSR for BT, about the challenges faced and successes achieved in building the CSR agenda within a multinational corporation

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are gaining traction across the globe. Craig Donaldson speaks with Janet Blake, head of global CSR for BT, about the challenges faced and successes achieved in building the CSR agenda within a multinational corporation

What have been the top three CSR initiatives for BT?

BT has been very proactive in CSR initiatives since the early 1990s, and over this time it has delivered a large number of initiatives. These include minimising our environmental impact, community and charity investment, helping disadvantaged communities gain the benefits of online access, business ethics, ensuring responsible behaviour of our suppliers through the supply chain, workforce diversity and employee motivation. There are three recent CSR highlights.

In community investment, we believe we can help most by using our own know-how around improving the quality of communications, so we focus on initiatives that help individuals and communities interact, learn and flourish. We have chosen projects involving young people, communications skills and the use of information and communication technology and in the last year have invested over £20 ($47) million in funding and support in kind (including employee volunteering and employee charity matching programs).

For instance, we have worked with over two million young people in workshops on the key life skills of better interpersonal communication, 3,000 BT volunteers regularly visit schools to run learning sessions and we sponsor ICT schools in deprived inner-city areas in India (our key focus to help the developing world) to help young people access the advantages of the digital age. In Australia, we work with Save the Children and across Asia, we have taken an active role in supporting areas struck by the Tsunami and Pakistan/Indian earthquake, where we installed satellite telephones to help emergency services.

When it comes to the environment, last year we signed the world’s largest green energy contract –we now source nearly all our UK electricity needs from environmentally friendly and renewable sources such as hydro, solar and wind. This covers 6,500 exchanges, offices and depots and equates to an additional 325,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission savings per year – the equivalent of 100,000 cars.

For customers, BT voluntarily operates a Nuisance Call Bureau to support customers receiving malicious and nuisance calls. We have introduced CleanFeed, a filtering system that uses latest technology to block access to websites black-listed by the UK Internet Watch Foundation. For many years we have offered a wide range of products and services to elderly and disabled customers such as TextDirect – a telephone relay service helping deaf, blind or hard of hearing people to make and receive phone calls.

What were the results?

The results of these and other initiatives have directly improved our customer satisfaction. We know that our CSR performance accounts for over 25 per cent of the brand and reputation drivers of customer satisfaction. Our analysis shows that a 10 per cent improvement in the public’s perception of our CSR activities means a 1 per cent increase in customer satisfaction. Customers most concerned about CSR issues are 90 per cent more loyal to BT.

Managing our environmental impact has saved us £1.1 ($2.6) billion over the last 10 years, demonstrating that being “green” is also good for the bottom line.

Our strong commitment to social responsibility underpins our employer brand and has shown direct benefits in attracting, motivating and retaining good people to work for us. In a recent survey we found that 63 per cent of employees felt more proud to work for BT as a direct result of our CSR activities. Of our recent graduate recruits, 30 per cent identified our social responsibility as a reason to join BT – up from previous years.

How have you built the hard business case and secured executive support for these initiatives, given CSR can often be seen as warm and fuzzy?

A well-articulated and compelling business case with clear and demonstrable benefits is essential to secure senior support for CSR. In addition to the benefits detailed above, we have been able to demonstrate that last year more than £2.2 ($5.1) billion of new business into BT had our CSR credentials as a key part of the bid or tendering process.

We regularly engage in dialogue with our key stakeholders – our customers, employees, suppliers, investors and communities – in order to really understand what they expect of us around CSR and to check the impact of our performance. This clarity and hard evidence allow us to articulate a clear and compelling case and also inspire new ways of doing business to continue to embed CSR into our core operations.

What have been the key challenges and lessons learned in the process?

Recent challenges centre on the dynamic nature of the global ICT and the new CSR challenges these bring, such as the changing geography of jobs/offshoring, data privacy, our increased global footprint in higher-risk countries and human rights in an extended global supply chain.

Key lessons learned for us have been to have a senior champion for CSR (in our case, BT’s chairman) to develop a clear governance structure around CSR, demonstrate the value drivers, use and communicate initiatives to make CSR concrete and set clear and measurable objectives which are openly reported with accountability.

What role did HR play in the process, and how can it play a more meaningful role in CSR?

My own role reports through the global HR director, so HR has a key role in CSR for our division and this model operates highly successfully. Much of the skill required for embedding CSR involves leadership behaviour change, mindset shifts across the business and strong program management. The strategic HR function is in an ideal position to drive CSR. Critical to success of this model, however, is extremely close, virtual and strategic working across the business – both the functional and geographic elements of the corporate matrix.

As well as the obvious roles for HR of building strong employee motivation and workforce diversity, one key early win for HR to demonstrate real leadership on CSR was to embed responsible behaviour into the company value set and the behavioural capabilities that drive recruitment, development, appraisal and reward mechanisms. This is arguably the most difficult element of driving change but singularly the most critical success factor to long term CSR commitment.

BT's CSR achievements

BT has been ranked top of the telecoms sector of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the past five years - an achievement of which we are very proud. This index is an independently assessed global review of the top 2,500 companies' CSR credentials.BT also comes in at the top of the telecommunications sector in the Business in the Community Corporate Responsibility Index (Business in the Community is an independent business-led charity based in the UK) and ranked third in the top 100 UK companies that took part in the 2004-2005 index.German independent ratings agency, OEKOM research AG, has ranked BT second out of 24 in its analysis of corporate responsibility in the telecommunications sector. BT is also included in the UK, European and World FTSE4Good Indices.

The history of BT

BT is the world's oldest communications company. Today, the company employs around 102,000 people across 49 countries, including 90,000 employees in the UK where BT is one of the country's largest employers. BT believes investors are becoming more interested in the social and environmental dimension of business performance and how it relates to business strategy. The key issue for investors is the business case for corporate social responsibility and how social, environmental and ethical risks and opportunities are managed to preserve and develop shareholder value.

Janet Blake is head of global CSR for British Telecom. She spoke at the recent Inaugural Corporate Social Responsibility Summit in Sydney.

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