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VW Scandal Good News For Us. Or: What Is Real Social Value

16 May 2016

corporate responsibilityDo we need to get back to basics in respect of corporate social responsibility and sustainability? Which is to ask: should the fact that a company is financially successful, employs local people and boosts local economies carry a stronger weighting in assessing 'sustainability' credentials? Chris Coxon, Head of Marketing at Eurocell, discusses.

Volkswagen’s story of cunning car computers that cheated emissions tests strikes fear into the heart of every director. Overnight, a trusted brand with a sound environmental record turned into a cheating, polluting monster. As a marketing professional, I read with a grimace about VW’s marketing campaign in the US, which dwelt so heavily on its cars’ low emissions.

It’s a warning to all companies to ensure that their marketers’ ideas about ‘brand’ actually ring true with the business’s core values. But it’s also a chance for regional businesses like ours to stand up and be counted.

There is some sense of a movement away from huge indifferent, amoral money-making corporations towards companies that have a more responsible attitude towards business and society. Today’s graduates – the ‘millennials’ – are motivated, more than any previous generation, to work for and with companies who have the same values as they do.

I would argue that a strong, regional manufacturing business is already a long way down the road of serving the wider community and society. It employs local people, training and developing them and providing work experience and apprenticeships.

Money paid in wages is re-spent within the local community, strengthening the local economy. Support of local charities – rather than headline grabbers that fit with the brand – strengthens social cohesion within employees’ communities. Like us, many larger regional companies work with SMEs, providing them with training and skills to install products effectively and to a high standard, all adding to the economic success of UK plc.

Specifiers and procurers don’t give enough consideration to the social and economic impact of their product choices. Too often they are focussed on the ‘green’ elements of sustainability that they forget about the basic principles of sustainable development.

A company’s attitude to environmental issues is important. A well-run business should expect to limit its negative impacts through cutting carbon emissions, using resources wisely and recycling. But it’s only part of the story.

Some clients, particularly in the public sector, are starting to take these wider issues into consideration. The catalyst for this has been the Social Value Act which says that public sector procurers should take economic, social and environmental well-being into account when procuring public services.

Let’s take the opportunity that Volkswagen’s fall from grace has created to make the case for regional businesses. Well-run, secure companies with strong values and a positive attitude to environment and society have a lot to offer.

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