The value of corporate social responsibility – Part 2

We are led to believe that the UK government’s “energy package” reflects social responsibility on the part of the energy companies

Over the next three years, it is claimed that energy firms will contribute up to £910 million “promoting energy efficient measures”.   (Note that’s actually £90 million – or 10% – less than the £1bn being used in headlines).

The suspicion is that the cost of this “responsibility” will be passed onto consumers.  To benefit under the scheme, householders will largely need to find additional money to invest in improving their homes – and undoubtedly jump though some bureaucratic hoops to get the grants on offer (should they be able to find a company skilled and able to take on the job).

Interestingly, there actually doesn’t seem to be engagement from the energy companies in the idea.  Rather than a voluntary contribution to supporting society, it is reported that legislation will be required to ensure the obligation is met (similar to an existing scheme).

There aren’t many fans of the government’s concept  – although the industry emphasises that it is already doing much to support those facing financial problems (termed “excuses” by the the union, Unite.

What the attitude of the energy companies evidences is a lack of commitment to social responsibility, despite the claims on their various websites.

It isn’t just what you do when making a contribution, but the spirit in which you do it.  Centrica for example, boasts about the big numbers behind its CR activities, but of course, its profit is another substantial figure

The perception amongst the public is that the industry is benefiting whilst customers are paying heavily for energy they need.  There seems to be little to choose between companies as they follow each other in rapidly increasing prices, but being much slower to react to lower fuel costs.

The spokespeople come over as arrogant and uncaring.  Stating that the government has already benefited by the high cost of energy though taxes and the North Sea reserves, seems less about explaining your position than seeking to divert attention.  Similarly, citing the need for profits for investment in sustainable development lacks credibility when the percentage increase in the former greater than that of the latter.

When your customers, and the society in which you operate, are experiencing problems, genuine corporate responsibility needs to clearly share in the pain.  Yes, there are existing CSR initiatives, but the impression is still one of the richest person in town dropping a few pennies in the poor box.

The simplest strategy would be for energy companies to have held back on the recent price increases, freeze the bonuses of their senior executives and voluntarily support those in need to an extent that it would be more than generous.

Sadly, the city wouldn’t like to see companies really empathising with the rest of us – and that would impact on share prices, which in turn has negative consequences for society. 

Isn’t it about time those who are driven by profits and what’s in it for them really understand this is a single society in which they need to demonstrate genuine responsibility, not just in terms of the taxes they begrudgingly pay?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

3 thoughts on “The value of corporate social responsibility – Part 2”

  1. Unfortunately, there will always be a considerable descrepency between the ‘geniune responsibility’ which you talk about, and the lip service or public relations show put on by many companies today.

    I’m not familiar with the British legislation, although I do support any geniune measures to promote household energy efficiency. I wonder how much effort the British energy industry is putting toward more environmentally friendly energy sources, such as renewable energy.

  2. Andrew – thanks for stopping by. I believe we need much of what is now seen as a competitive benefit in CSR terms to become a “hygiene” or expected practice (whether by legal constraints or societal pressures). Then it is harder for organisations to wear the clothes of CSR if they aren’t genuinely embedded as corporate values.

    At present, the energy industry in Britain seems to use investment in alternative technologies to look good. It also seems to lack real understanding of the needs of communities (especially the elderly or poorer customers).

    There was a shocking quote from a boss at one of the energy companies this week that a bad weather means more profits, which is insensitive at the least.

  3. Look at Waitrose power in the high street alongside the local butcher. How ‘responsible’ is it as a competitor? Look at its employees and ask ‘how many live over the shop’? …….

    No matter how much CSR bling a big company tries to attach to the brand, the reality is about a host of issues and values.

    And Morrisons? Good, old fashioned Yorkshire thrift and quality meat and fish might be its expression of CSR.

    The invention of some ivory tower Corporate Affairs is not good CSR its bling and is not good PR.

    CSR comes in many forms.

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