Business and industry have come far in recent decades, yet I still see room for change. Social Value can no longer be purely a gesture or a ‘nice to have’. There’s growing evidence to show both businesses and customers putting far more importance on environmental and social credentials, especially within the last 18 months.
Back in 2012 the UK government took a strong step, with the introduction of the Public Services (Social Value) Act, which requires all public sector services and organisations, when commissioning work for public services, to think about how the businesses contracted could also benefit communities, society and the environment. This Act may have only applied specifically to the public sector, yet it signalled a wider focus on the Social Value of business activity for all organisations – especially if your business is a public sector supplier!
As we embarked upon the new year for 2021, an additional compliance policy was added to the Act, along with a Social Value Model. These documents have provided a framework for how to implement and measure Social Value activity within organisations of all sizes, and for public services specifically. As there’s a requirement to calculate and assess the Social Value benefits and impact of any contract awarded, public sector suppliers will need to demonstrate this in any tenders and bids.
One of the five key themes contained within the Social Value Model is Covid recovery, with the aim of helping local communities to bounce back from the wide-reaching effects of the pandemic. This document has provided some much-needed clarity for many who aren’t sure how to create Social Value benefits. However, it’s often about careful consideration of what businesses are already doing, and where they can make small but effective changes, rather than necessarily creating anything new – adding Social Value is an ongoing journey, not a destination. What this does mean, however, is that there is now a pressing need to monitor and measure these Social Value benefits within organisations.
With employment levels taking a hit in the last 18 months, any opportunities for people to gain employment, training, or volunteering opportunities are positive. Under financial pressure it’s tempting to try and downsize, close office space or reduce operations, yet what could be achieved by changing your business elements rather than simply removing them?
Perhaps you’ve adapted to continue operating your business within Covid-19 restrictions, or changed how you support your employees or customers to maintain safety – this in itself is an example of Social Value and how you’ve continued to create a positive impact: on the economy by staying open, on your staff by keeping their jobs open, and on your community by maintaining safety and continuing to provide a service.
The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to not only re-evaluate how we do business, but how we do good. So, as we all now adjust to new ways of working and living, it seems a good time to start creating a new “normal”. Perhaps we don’t need so many cars on the road, to commute every day, to discard of all our waste. We can reuse, recycle, change our protocols and still operate successfully, achieving a positive effect on our People, our Planet and our Prosperity.
We All Have a Part to Play
Let’s start asking our customers and our work forces what’s truly important to them, and considering how these things can be affected by our businesses. Let’s examine our activity flow and ask ourselves: how can we redesign this to create a circular economy – can we create a zero-waste system?
We are fortunate to be living in a time where sustainable innovation is everywhere; textiles made of discarded plastic, carbon capture and storage, waste to energy plants, green web hosting and countless reusable versions of household items. The technology to eliminate any form of waste is out there and getting better all the time.
We need to have these conversations more often to better understand and embed the idea of Social Value and what it looks like day to day. I’d be truly interested to hear what changes you’ve made, or plan to make, in your organisation. Or are you stumped by the prospect of making changes and aren’t sure where to start? By sharing our ideas and experiences, we can all learn and improve, and move forward to a new normal we, and our future generations, will all benefit from.