European Federation of Foundation Contractors

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Sustainability – more than just CO² emissions

When people speak about sustainability, you hear terms like recycling, co² emissions; carbon footprint, renewable energy being used. Whilst these terms are important and require our full attention, these words alone do not acknowledge the complexity of sustainability.

The word sustainability was first used back in 1987 by the Forestry Industry. This Industry tried to define a balanced way for their responsibility of planting sufficient new trees to balance those lost to harvesting by saying: “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability to the future generations to meet their requirements.”

Nowadays the terms “sustainability” is more and more used in all Industries and has for several years been used in connection with the leadership of companies or enterprises.

Therefore, it is advisable to translate the meaning of sustainability into the most suitable description for our day-to-day business as follows:

Corporate Social Responsibility: How can we understand the meaning?

In legal terms one will find that there are fundamental legal regulations on the management and supervision of a company. The European Union and the OECD also have their views and publish guidelines on CSR, but whilst their information is useful, it goes far beyond what I think is needed here and so I prefer a much simpler approach. A manager of a company shall run his/her business in accordance with standards of: “good and responsible corporate management”. The manager shall ensure the company’s future and its sustained value creation in line with the principles of the social market economy.

The large enterprises, many of which are listed on the stock market, are required to present a yearly Sustainability Report, in which they summarise the wide range of topics and the related activities of the corporation.

Companies are part of an increasingly complex and global system, drawing on and impacting on that system. Sustainable development poses a challenge to the traditional mindsets of companies. Increasingly their performance is judged not just by the services, products and profits they make but also by the impact they have on human and social well-being, as well as on the natural environment on which we all depend for life.

The EFFC has addressed the issue of sustainability several years ago and consequently launched a Sustainability Charter in 2011.

As a European Federation, it is our aim that all National Federations, their individual member companies address sustainability in a formal manner. Often I hear from the smaller member companies the statement: “We are too small to prepare sustainability reports. There is no legal requirement for us to do this.”

As much as I understand the statement, I do know that many companies are already active on topics which are completely related to sustainability, but don’t recognize them as being called like this.

Let me use a very simple example: If one would ask a typical household, what they are doing in their daily efforts in respect of sustainability, they would probably not know what to answer, because ‘sustainability’ in this context has no meaning to them. But for sure they could tell you how much effort is put into taking care of the house, keeping it clean and in good shape and safely insured. They could also tell you much effort is placed into buying and cooking healthy food to ensure the wellbeing of the family. How much effort is put into taking care of the children, their health, school homework and their cultural education. In addition, they make sure that children have a sound school education to enable them to find their professional career and work path. They take care of the relationship with the neighbours and with friends. Finances are thoroughly managed together with many other activities too.

Assuming that a household is the smallest example of a “private corporation”, then we can clearly see the best example of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Having said so, and bringing the issues back to a corporation (legal entity), a good and responsible corporate management is well advised to take care of the following topics in the organization:

o The Corporation as such
o The Management and its responsibility
o The Stakeholder
o The Environment
o The Employees

sustainability image

In order to help create guidance for those who wish to start collecting and writing down their activities with regards to Sustainability, the following little roadmap could be of assistance.

Take the five headlines from the above illustration and start writing down a Policy Statement for your corporation for each of the headlines. The next step would be to write down the action about how you intend to implement the policy. The final issue is then to define the method by which you are going to measure or check your achievements.

In order to illustrate a possible scenario for the headline of: “The Corporation”

Policy – The Company/Corporation shall be a good citizen within society. Let’s become better every day.

Implementation – Pay taxes in the community. Employ people preferably from within the local community. Take part in cultural events. Give an open house to the community.

Implement a Quality Management System as well as a HSE System. Learn from mistakes.

Measurement – Measure the amount of taxes, number of people employed, years of employment; amount of donations or events.
Measure the amount of money spent to rectify mistakes and bear the consequences of accidents (LTI)

The above illustration should only be used as an example guideline, but it does show in principle, how the process can be tackled. Keep in mind that it shall be used for all 5 elements of the illustration. Every company of course has to find the appropriate definition of the relevant policies, actions of implementation and method of measurement.

I wish to encourage EFFC Members and their Member Companies to adopt their own Sustainability Policy and Reporting System.
The implementation is a learning process and surely will be improved year by year.

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