No doubt like many other contractors, we have been drafting our own ESG strategy – christened at DOC as ‘Beyond Cleaning’ – and are planning to launch it later this month. What struck me, however, as we pulled together the various strands of this three-year plan, is that most of the activities we are now framing as ESG are things we have actually been doing for nigh on 20 years. I am talking about employing local people, running an ethnically diverse and gender equal workforce, trying to improve pay rates, appointing local suppliers and subcontractors, using power-efficient equipment, purchasing eco-friendly products, and supporting charities.
We are not the only ones. I can scarcely think of a competitor who has not operated in this way for a long time. So, it begs the question, why are all these worthy practices now appearing under the new banner of ESG? I think the answer is really quite simple. Whilst some may think of it as an agenda overly focused on social justice, the considerate management of stakeholders in a way that is sustainable and inclusive for them all is fast becoming a beacon of hope in a world characterised at times by some pretty awful behaviour and what many see as a worrying decline in moral standards. Let us just stop for a moment, therefore, and congratulate ourselves as an industry that, without necessarily realising it, we have been running our companies in a socially responsible manner that the world’s governments and corporates, not to mention major players in the not-for-profit sector, are now saying is essential in order to maintain credibility amongst stakeholders of all types, whether they be employees, customers, suppliers, or investors.
You might also ask, what is the difference between the CSR policies of 20 years ago and the ESG policies of 2022? The answer is surely that the underlying crises they are trying to solve are all of a sudden more real and in some cases looking increasingly irreversible. Which is why the difference between the demands of those who promote ESG today and those who used to extol CSR is that whereas before it was enough just to be attempting the remedies, it is now necessary to demonstrate by way of record keeping and verifiable metrics that you are actually delivering on the remedies and achieving your ESG objectives year-on-year. In our industry that could mean reducing C02 emissions, paying the Real Living Wage, switching to probiotic cleaning products, or whatever channels you are pursuing to operate responsibly.
I still stand by my comments of a few months ago that there needs to be a balance struck between the pursuit of ESG perfection and the reality of the corporate and social world we face every day. But if you ask me what the benefits of ESG are and whether it is worth delivering, I would say it is now not only a moral decision, but a long-term decision about commercial survival. Attracting the right people to work for you and nurturing talent is now very much about the values you hold as an employer and about walking that talk. If these things help you make it onto tender lists, that is a welcome side effect, but it is no longer the main reason for doing it.
Published in June issue of Cleaning & Maintenance.