For your business to be sustainable you need to maintain good relationships with people. The community impact of your business relates to social sustainability. It is reflected in how you treat people and how you manage your relationships and activities in the community. Being aware of your community impact is part of your corporate social responsibility.
People have a direct effect on your business productivity, sales volume, reputation and governance. So there are several communities that your business interacts with. Externally these are your customers, local residents and the global community. Internally they are your employees, suppliers, shareholders and directors.
Sustainable practice and community
Managing your community impact involves assessing the real and potential effects of your business on the local and broader community. Then you can decide which areas you want to improve and which activities you will put in place.
Your approach will depend on factors such as the size of your business, your existing relationship with the local community, your reputation, your immediate needs and long term goals.
Community infrastructure and cultural heritage
If you are planning to relocate or build new facilities you might focus on how you manage the impact on the local community. The impact could be increased noise, traffic congestion, lack of housing, resettlement requirements or pressure on access to local services that arise from influx of personnel, site development work or operational processes that are new to the area.
Cultural heritage usually refers to buildings, precincts or objects that carry aesthetic and/or historic value by providing evidence of cultural practices or beliefs. Any site development or construction should consider the impact on culturally significant buildings and how to manage any artifacts that might be unearthed.
Marketing, communications and profile
Consumers and business customers are becoming more committed to sourcing products and providers that have a good track record in terms of sustainability. You can raise your profile by communicating what you have done to improve the sustainability of your supply chain. Using renewable energy and materials, using local and fair trade suppliers, improving your energy efficiency and reducing waste to landfill through recycling can all be positive marketing messages
You can also promote your track record with your workforce and workplace culture. Flexible or improved work conditions, employing from the local community, promoting diversity in the workplace and being sensitive to the use of cultural and ethnic icons can help demonstrate your corporate social responsibility.
Make information about your products available to customers. Sustainability information might include the supply chain and life cycle impact of your products, renewable or recycled materials used, clever features, energy ratings and options for product recycling and re-use.
Word of mouth and repeat customers are a significant support to any business. Communicate your sustainability activities through your formal marketing activities, product information, networking and relationship building activities.
If you want to build stronger relationships with the local community you might focus on sponsoring events held by local schools or community groups. You could target your recruitment in the local area. You might set up a program to encourage your staff to participate in community or charity activities. Or you might start to reward staff or give an extra leave day if they participate in a local event or volunteer with a local charity.
You could invite local residents to an open day with a barbeque at your facility. This is an opportunity to show what you do, how you do it and what safety or hazard controls you have in place. It is also a way of getting feedback and information from the community.
It is important to listen and respond to any concerns the community has about your business.You could also set up consultation meetings if you want to talk to the community about specific activities. These can help you understand the issues raised by the community and to test the feasibility of making adjustments. They allow you to provide information and to explain to the community how you are responding to their needs.
Day to day community impact
There is a potential impact on the community from day to day operations and all employees can contribute to sustainability by applying respectful behaviour in the local area and by taking personal responsibility for issues such as noise and parking while arriving and leaving the site.
You might decide to focus on activities in or with the local community. If you are planning to change your operations you could set up open community consultations or targeted meetings with local representatives. This provides an opportunity to communicate your plans, give notice about the changes and get input from locals to help make a smooth transition.
Similarly you can communicate to the local community when any ‘out of the ordinary’ event or activities are going to happen. These might include extended operating hours, non-routine processes, emission or noises, influx of people or additional traffic for deliveries.
Letting the locals know will help show that you do think about the impact on them. It also shows that you are planning (and in control of) what your organisation does.
Managing your performance in the community
There are many areas you could focus your efforts to strengthen your community relationships and build a positive profile. Things to think about include:
- Top level commitment that is reflected in ethical governance practices, strategies for responding to community concerns and policies that support ethical and sustainable supply chain decisions
- Mechanisms to ensure your business adheres to protocols for the use of cultural, religious and ethnic icons and imagery
- Access and equity policies that promote the employment of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups such as people with a disability
- Compliance to cultural heritage requirements to protect buildings, precincts or objects that carry aesthetic and/or historic value by providing evidence of cultural practices or beliefs.
- Recruitment policies that target local residents
- Identifying and managing the impact of business decisions on local employment, accommodation, transport and other infrastructure
- Refer to the ISO 26000 Social Responsibility which provides guidance on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the issues an organisation needs to address in order to operate in a socially responsible manner
- Review the More information page for additional information and guidance.